PARIS, Oct 26, 2007 (AFP) - If romantic fiction is any guide, any doctor looking for love would be advised to be an emergency room surgeon or deliver babies rather than practise colon resection or remove in-grown toenails.
So says Irish physician Brendan Kelly, who - with a bravura contempt for the effect this endeavour could have on his mind - has probed at length into the burgeoning literary field of medical romance.
Hospital novels are one of the fastest-growing areas of romantic fiction which, according to the Romance Writers of America, generates 1.2 billion dollars in annual sales and accounts for 39.3 percent of all fiction sold in the United States.
In an offbeat letter published in Saturday?s Lancet, Kelly describes the typical plot structure and characterisation in 20 randomly-selected medical romance novels.
Of the male protagonists, six worked in emergency medicine, five in surgery and three in obstetrics, neonatology and paediatrics, he found.
"There was a marked preponderance of brilliant, tall, muscular, male doctors with chiselled features, working in emergency medicine," says Kelly, a University College Dublin psychiatrist.
"They were commonly of Mediterranean origin and had personal tragedies in their pasts."
Of the female protagonists, 11 were doctors - mostly working in primary care, obstetrics/neonatology, surgery or emergency medicine - eight were nurses and one was a paramedic, and all were "skilled, beautiful and determined but still compassionate."
As for the storyline, novelists skirted such hazards as malpractice suits for removing the wrong kidney or infection by a hospital superbug.
Instead, they stuck to a tried-and-trusted formula of the doctor as a saviour in a white coat.
"Protagonists of both sexes had frequently neglected their personal lives to care better for their patients, many of whom had life-threatening illnesses from which they nonetheless managed to recover," he notes.
Tongue firmly in cheek, Kelly says ER doctors and nurses clearly run the risk of unleashing "uncontrolled passions" when they wield their stethoscope and need urgent training in how to cope with this peril.