“Dr. Irresistible”: The Neurosurgeon in the Contemporary Romance Novel
Introduction: Romance fiction outsells all other US fiction combined. Although romance novels often feature neurosurgeons in leading roles, the popular image of neurosurgery reflected in romance fiction has been little studied.
Methods: Convenience sample of contemporary romance novels that include neurosurgeons, reader commentary, critical works, and manuals for writers of romance novels.
Results: Neurosurgeons are found as heroes, heroines, and villains in romance novels. As a desirable hero, the neurosurgeon offers wealth and pursues a lifesaving profession requiring decisive action. The neurosurgeon may resect an “inoperable” brain tumor from the heroine or her child. Increasingly, the heroine may be a neurosurgeon; her male protagonist may be a neurosurgeon also, but more often he is a rock star, quarterback, bounty hunter or thug. The single-minded pursuit of a neurosurgical career by a hero is increasingly shown as threatening the union between him and the heroine -- a vital romance convention. This barrier is overcome when he leaves neurosurgery for less demanding work, such as research or general practice, sometimes facilitated by independent wealth or his royal status (king, prince or sheikh). Alternatively he may become disabled through accident or blindness. This reflects a general trend in contemporary romance away from traditional heroes who require “taming”; toward those who value closer family relations. Finally, neurosurgeons can act negatively: as repressive ex-husbands, or fathers who forbid daughter’s; relationships with “unsuitable” men.
Conclusions: Neurosurgeon heroines are rapidly becoming more common in romance novels, although when the neurosurgeon is a man the profession may be shown as a barrier to a rewarding personal life.