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Posted June 1, 2012

Congress 2012

“Grey’s Anatomy” gives young Canadians a favourable impression of Canadian healthcare

Study shows popular TV shows colouring Canadians’ impressions of US vs. Canadian systems

Waterloo—Preliminary results of a study of young Canadians in western Canada shows most perceive the country’s health care system as fairer than the American system.

The study, which uses the TV show Grey’s Anatomy as an example of the U.S. health care system, looks at how the show influences its participants’ perceptions of the differences between the Canadian and American systems.

Kaela Jubas, one of the authors of the study and an assistant professor of education at the University of Calgary, says fairness, as defined by people having access to health care, is the most important issue to emerge.

“Participants are pretty quick to affirm their support for Canada’s public health care system, because they perceived it as more fair,” she says.

Jubas, who is presenting initial results from her work at the 2012 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, says participants recognize the Canadian health care system needs improvement, particularly in areas of wait times and doctor shortages. But she says participants generally feel that having a health care system available to everyone trumps problems like wait times.

Jubas says pop culture, and particularly TV shows, is hugely important in shaping public attitudes – and ultimately, public policy.

Policy-making isn’t something that happens only in legislatures, she notes. It also happens in living rooms, because things like TV shows create vivid images in people’s minds about certain issues.

“That’s why pop culture is so powerful,” she says. “It does things no one else can do.”

Jubas became interested in the issue of how pop culture influences attitudes to health care when she was working on her PhD thesis. Medical students she was interviewing kept wondering how situations they were seeing arise on American TV shows translated into a Canadian context.

So she decided to see if she could pinpoint how our attitudes are influenced by American TV.

(Jubas says Canadians don’t have many pop culture depictions of our own health care system. Most doctors portrayed on Canadian TV shows, she says, are coroners.)

The study, done in conjunction with Dawn Johnston, an instructor in cultural studies at the University of Calgary, conducted focus groups with 60 Grey’s Anatomy fans aged 18 to 30 in six cities in the West: Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Regina.

It examined how their reactions to the show and how they perceived differences between the two countries’ health systems.

Jubas says she and Johnston hope to use this study to spur conversations in Canada about our health care system and the policies around it.

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