Frontier Doctor

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Information icon4.svg This page needs visual enhancement.
You can help All The Tropes by finding a high-quality image or video to illustrate the topic of this page.


I have great respect for those of the medical profession who have taken up their position in the remote districts of Scotland and devote themselves to the healing art under most disadvantageous circumstances. The distances are incredibly long and dangerous in winter: I have in mind an insular doctor who has a great deal to do of midnight boating in glacial weather, and whose bills are often paid not in coin but in fleece off a sheep's back.

—Daniel Turner Holmes, Literary Tours in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

A physician who works in a frontier community.

While the inhabitants of The Wild West were tougher than case-hardened nails, they still could get hurt and sick. So there was a need for doctors, and the Frontier Doctor came west to fill that need. The frontier doctor needed to be tough and resourceful, since supplies were scarce, and the latest equipment was seldom at hand. He'd often be called upon to travel long distances at any hour of the day or night, and might even treat sick animals if no veterinarian was handy.

With all that said, anyone who'd leave the soft, prosperous life of a doctor in the East had to have a pretty good reason. In fiction, the Frontier Doctor is often flawed. Perhaps he is an alcoholic, or killed a man, or is a Wide-Eyed Idealist who volunteered to come west without thinking it through. Which isn't to say that the characters in a Western aren't grateful that he's there to patch up their bullet holes and cure their pox.

As the territory becomes more civilized, this character becomes "the town doctor", with better access to equipment and supplies, but not much more rest as he or she's still basically the only physician for miles.

Examples of Frontier Doctor include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books



  • On the Discworld witches perform this role in out of the way communties such as Lancre.
  • In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long is living on a frontier planet and has mildly unpleasant dealings with the alcoholic (and only) doctor on the planet.

Live Action TV

  • Parodied in a series of Armstrong And Miller sketches. "I work in Botswana, saving lives. Do YOU?"
  • Doc Cochran of Deadwood. Man's got an extremely curmudgeonly disposition, and a glare that'd spook the eyebrows off a Mentat, but he's a compassionate soul tryin' to hold onto some fuckin' humanity in that godforsaken camp. If people'd listen to him more often, he might actually be able to do his job. He's also got a boatload of psychological trauma from his time in the Civil War, so the man's altogether a whole barrel o' laughs.
  • Dr. Bill Baxter of the obviously-named Frontier Doctor series.
  • Dr. Michaela Quinn of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
  • Simon Tam of Firefly is a Frontier Doctor In Space, down to having once worked in a Hospital Paradiso on a Core World and being driven to the Frontier by a conflict with the law.
  • In the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Bashir comments about his new post saying this, and offending Major Kira in the process. (This is her home, and it doesn't seem like a distant frontier to THIS restless native.) On the other hand, he does go about occasionally making house-calls to neighboring planets, (including Bajor a time or two).
    • Bashir later meets a classmate who took a prestige assignment with a starship, and she complains how boring her own assignment was as opposed to his own (the writers also uses this as a jab against The Next Generation and Voyagers problem of the week episodes compared to the arcs in Deep Space Nine).
  • Dr. McCoy in Star Trek: The Original Series is perhaps Trek's outstanding example of a (Final) Frontier Doctor—resourceful in the face of alien ailments, preferring simple homespun methods when possible, but cantankerous, eccentric and not entirely happy with his lot (he fled to space on the heels of a divorce). Star Trek was pretty much the original Space Western, after all, and actor DeForest Kelley had an extensive background in Westerns.
  • Arguably, everyone in a M*A*S*H unit. Hawkeye preferred calling it 'meatball surgery'.
  • Most of the Diagnosans in Farscape tend to occupy this kind of role.
  • Archie Campbell played one on Hee Haw.
  • Hiram Baker on Little House On the Prairie.


  • Did I ever tell you the story about Cowboys! M-M-midgets, the indians and, Fron, Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Psychiatrist, The Avalanches


Now the doctor came in, stinking of gin,
And proceeded to lie on the table



  • "Doc" Adams of Gunsmoke. The radio version was actually Dr. Calvin Moore, who'd killed a man in a duel and changed his name to avoid the man's vengeful friends; the television version was Dr. Galen Adams, and did not have such a dark backstory.

Tabletop Games

  • Most any 'healer' PC - such as a Cleric in D&D - in the vast majority of RPGs will fit the bill, although they often have access to magic in addition to gumption and bandages.

Real Life

  • "Doc" Holliday, of Real Life and many, many fictional accounts, was a Frontier Dentist, but is far better known for his gambling and gunfighting. (His consumptive cough apparently tended to scare off clients.)
  • James Herriot sort of counts, working in a backwater community and all.
  • These people still exist, although they tend to make their rounds by aircraft instead of on horseback. The Other Wiki has a disambiguation page for their articles about Flying Doctors.