General Hospital – An Emmy-Award-Winning Medical and Social Soap

Founded in 1963 by husband-and-wife soap writers Frank and Doris Hursley, general hospital premiered as an ABC black-and-white half-hour program on April 1, 1963. The story took place in a fictional hospital set in the small town of Port Charles, New York. Its first episode opened with Nurse Audrey March (Rachel Ames) resuscitating a young woman who had suffered a blow to the head during a joy ride.

For the next five decades, the serial has been credited with introducing a whole host of medical and social issues that have made it one of the most respected soaps on television. From accurate portrayals of HIV/AIDS and breast cancer to the emergence of bipolar disorder, the show has been at the forefront of a number of health and wellness concerns. It has also been lauded for elevating sexual responsibility; increasing tolerance and acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgender people; fostering AIDS awareness; supporting organ donation; promoting smoking cessation and encouraging breastfeeding.

In addition to addressing real-life health care and social concerns, general hospital has served as a training ground for doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, volunteers, actors and other members of the show’s cast. It has had a hand in the development of several medical and psychiatric specialties, including psychophysiology — a branch of psychology that uses physiological measurements to examine mind-body issues. In addition, the show has been credited with helping to pave the way for prime-time medical dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Doctor.

As a result of the increased demand for inpatient beds, General Hospital recently asked the Department of Public Health for approval to construct a new tower for cardiology and oncology services, which would require closing other older spaces. However, the request was denied, citing that the cost of the new space far exceeded original estimates.

General Hospital has been at the forefront of many medical and social issues, from a patient’s right to privacy to the benefits of vaccines. The show has also been praised by national organizations for its emphasis on sexual responsibility; HIV/AIDS-related storylines; acceptance and tolerance of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender individuals; accurate depictions of alcohol, drug and tobacco use; and a commitment to breast cancer awareness.

Although GH’s ratings have fallen in recent years, it has avoided cancellation twice before. In both instances, the show was saved by new executive producers and head writers who quickened the pace, updated production values and created compelling stories. Currently, the show is led by veteran producer Frank Valentini and co-head writer Shelly Altman. Its current stars include Kristina Wagner, who plays the magical Felicia Scorpio and is paired with Jack Wagner’s Frisco Jones as a soap super-couple. The show also features many other familiar faces, including Demi Moore and Rick Springfield. GH is broadcast weekdays on The ABC Television Network.