TELEVISION / First aid boxing

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The Independent Culture
HOW do you become a doctor? Doctors to Be (BBC 2) has been tailing students for eight years, and last night it showed us its records. Step one: get into medical school. In sequences from 1984, the stars of the series, chubby of cheek and unwise of haircut, were enduring interviews at St Mary's, London.

There were plenty of tips on offer for jobseekers generally. Help yourself from this catalogue of wince-inducing porkies: 'I spend a lot of time reading Shakespeare', 'I think my Duke of Edinburgh Award was really character-building' etc. Also, if asked to describe your failings, simply describe one of your attributes, only with a furrowed brow. 'Perhaps I want to get things too perfect,' mused one student, nobly putting herself down.

The reason people want to become doctors is patent enough: by all accounts, medical school is a five-year toga party, just briefly interrupted by Rag Week. And this is, in fact, the only sensible way to prepare for a working life in which people are expected to work 75-hour shifts. Doctors to Be was a bit weighed down with its concern about this, using the flip between now and then to furnish us with a sense of wrecked idealism. Whereas what we viewers were bursting to see was groups of wrecked student doctors, crazed with smuggled pharmaceuticals, doing appalling things to laboratory cadavers.

Still, some pro-NHS points were scored. Juliet Stevenson, doing the voice-over, warned us that if ever we end up in casualty, the chances are our needs will be seen to by 'a tired 25 year-old, one year out of medical school'. You can see the disadvantages. Then again, as the programme amply demonstrated, it is still a better prospect than being attended to by an enthusiastic 17-year-old who has only just sent off their UCCA form.

The documentary series Cutting Edge (C 4) returned, offering 'Breakdown', a piece about the difficult decisions surrounding 'sectioning', or taking people into care. There were some scenes of awful distress and the programme felt obliged to hold a card up at the end: 'All the sequences in this programme were filmed with the permission of the patients or those responsible for them at the time.'

But did that excuse the scenes in which an aggressive male patient was made distraught specifically by the presence of the cameras? 'Will you tell that guy to piss off now?' he said, slamming a door on the cameraman. Later, he grabbed the boom microphone and attempted to snap it, like a stick, across his thigh. The patient's plea for privacy in which to make a phone call was also ignored by the camera crew, who crept round to a side-window and eavesdropped from there.

The director of 'Breakdown' was Valerie Kaye. In the event of Ms Kaye ever being sectioned, I would like to be present - not to assist in any way, but just to poke a camera through the bars and see how she's getting on.

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