How “Scrubs” Characters are Basically Your Military Unit

Sure, at first glance, you wouldn’t think that a TV show about a doctors, nurses, and a crazy janitor at teaching hospital would have anything to do with the military. However, both the military and the medical professions have a lot in common: life and death decisions, long periods of boredom punctuated with brief moments of terrifying excitement, odd uniform requirements, and profoundly absurd moments (high-fiving banana-hammock-wearing jocks, anyone?).

Bill Lawrence’s 2001-2009 (Season 9 doesn’t count) TV show captured all of these moments with a strong cast of characters who are immediately recognizable to anyone who’s ever set foot on a military base. Scrubs also provides a cornucopia of leadership and mentoring lessons, since the setting is a teaching hospital.  Both military and medical personnel spend most of their time refining tactics and techniques and dealing with people. Thus, Scrubs provides easily transferrable vignettes for military members – many of them full of the absurdism that characterizes our profession. It also comes with a pretty recognizable chain of command. Let’s take a gander, shall we?

Dr. Bob Kelso – Chief of Medicine – Battalion Commander

Who’s got two thumbs and doesn’t give a crap? Your garden variety hardass battalion commander, Dr. Bob Kelso. Completely mission-focused, willing to take losses along the way, and always ready with a quick put-down for insubordinate subordinates, Kelso occasionally displays a human side underneath his gruff demeanor. Like many battalion commanders, Kelso spends most of his time trying to get more resources for his unit while squabbling with his company commanders and trying to keep the enlisted members of the battalion from rioting. Spends so much time at work that he never develops a personal life. Seeks solace in alcohol and carbs. Eventually retires and suddenly gets an identity other than his profession – but can’t totally let go.

Dr. Percival Cox – Residency Director – Company Commander

Angry, frustrated with the system, a physical fitness nut, and tortured by his platoon leaders, Dr. Perry Cox is the badass company commander you want to work for but who also scares the crap out of you. Cox is mostly concerned with the heart of the mission – patient care – and rabidly hates any distractions thrown in his way. In order to provide better care, he throws himself into developing junior leaders modeled on his own philosophy. A tortured soul struggling with PTSD who sometimes hides in a bottle of scotch, Cox mentors his platoon leaders through a combination of anger, snark, expertise, passion, and a hidden core of care. He recognizes talent and promotes it where he can. His personal life is a complete and utter disaster area due to his myopic focus on his professional life. He ends up shacking up with his ex-wife, to the surprise of utterly no one.

Dr. John Dorian – Resident – Platoon Leader

A complete and utter nerd in every way, platoon leader Dorian has lots of education and approximately zero experience. He rapidly gains proficiency as he excels in his work, becoming a technical expert while being constantly berated by his company commander – who recognizes his talent and works constantly to improve him. Dorian is goofy as hell, but is able to build networks amongst his fellow officers and NCOs that benefit him throughout his career. His ability to genuinely care is what separates him from the rest. Probably branches engineer or logistics because he likes problem-solving. Drinks fruity cocktails and still manages to retain the respect of his NCOs even though he basically cosplays Harry Potter.

Dr. Chris Turk – Resident – Platoon Leader

Athletic, loves competition, and can totally be sidetracked by donuts. To surgery resident Dr. Turk, he is a hammer and the world is full of nails. Thus, he probably branches infantry or armor. This explains his overly competitive nature and his love of physical fitness, as well as his constant drive to always be better. Spends most of his free time goofing with the platoon leader Dorian. Ends up marrying an NCO. Typical.

Dr. Elliot Reid – Resident – Platoon Leader

Motivated, career-driven, from a wealthy family, neurotic, and incredibly intelligent, Dr. Reed is that platoon leader who is going to present incredible OPORD briefings and then fall into a mud puddle right afterwards. She will seamlessly transition from platoon leader to staff officer while also battling endemic misogyny within the organization. Probably branches field artillery or military intelligence because of her need to always be learning. Often says “frick, frick, frick” and will eventually end up marrying another officer.

Carla Espinosa – Nurse – Platoon Sergeant

The medical system would collapse without nurses and the Army would collapse without NCOs. Carla is the experienced NCO who mentors and guides the new platoon leaders, listens to the whining of the company commander, and protects everyone from the battalion commander, all while taking care of her own family and being the best of the best. Simply put, she is an outstanding leader, counselor, and friend. If every new platoon leader had a platoon sergeant like Carla, the Army would be a far better place.

Ted Buckland, Esq – Lawyer – JAG Officer

Like all Army JAGs, pretty damn weird and always reminding their fellow officers about liability. Constantly demoralized since no one listens to him. Seeks solace in music and in fantasizing about killing the battalion commander.

The Janitor – Janitor – That One Really Weird E-4/Warrant Officer

The janitor is every weird E-4 that has ever lived. Proof: builds a squirrel army. Builds a sand castle and tries to live in it. Steals the battalion commander’s ride and turns it into his own. Makes jum (gin mixed with rum) at work (“Have you been drinking?” “Well I’m not drunk.”) Constantly invents energy-saving devices that backfire. Likes the smell of bleach. He’s obsessed with taxidermy and with tormenting one particular lieutenant. We’ve all known and worked with this particular terminal E-4 before. Hell, it’s where half of our fun stories come from. However, he’s also definitely half warrant officer since he’s rarely found actually doing his job.

There’s also Dr. Todd Quinlan, who is your basic misogynistic infantry officer who cares far too much about his own body and who is a walking SHARP complaint. Gives way too many high fives.

Nurse Laverne Roberts is that jaded E-8 who’s seen it all and just wants to do her 20 years and be done with it. Is basically the backbone of the organization.

Jordan Sullivan is the company commander’s ex-wife who constant torments him and then eventually ends up with him again because they’re both too messed up for anyone else.

Dr. Doug Murphy is every incompetent second lieutenant. He’s almost always lost, doesn’t know where his equipment is, and isn’t sure where his platoon went. Ends up on staff very, very quickly.

An honorable mention for Dr. Coleman Slawski, aka Colonel Doctor, who – like most colonels – spent most of his time doing stuff in the background that no one else really understood.

If you enjoyed the TV show Scrubs, check out the podcast “Fake Doctors, Real Friends” from iHeartRadio, hosted by Zach Braff and Donald Faison. It’s a great look at how the show was made and really, just a fun way to spend some time. If you’re a fan of the show, you won’t regret it.

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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

Cover photo: CREDIT: ABC

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