Dr. Elliot Reid

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By: Corrie Hughes

Biography Elliot Reid starts off the series as an intern at Sacred Heart Hospital fresh out of medical school. She is hypercompetitive, insecure and always manages to “put her foot in her mouth” at the most inopportune moments. Because of her ditzy, talkative nature, Dr. Cox, a resident at Sacred Heart calls her Barbie whenever she asks a stupid question. Elliot is the daughter of the stuck-up Chief of Medicine at a private hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut and an alcoholic, overly critical mother whom is overly concerned with appearances. Both her mother and father never seem to be happy with anything she does. According to Elliot, her parents were disappointed when she was born that she was not a boy and therefore gave her a boy’s name. Her mother makes remarks that she should get a more feminine job and her father has extremely high expectations of her. Elliot tends to let people walk all over and take advantage of her thus resulting in a nurse named Laverne calling her “Marshmallow”. Throughout the nine recorded seasons of this sitcom, Elliot is in a constant struggle to stand up for herself and establish her identity.

Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development

From the psychosocial viewpoint of Erik Erikson, Elliot Reid faces a number of conflicts that that fit into and lead up to the Late Adolescence stage of Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development. In this stage, individuals age 18-22 are faced with the psychosocial crisis of establishing between individual identity vs. identity confusion and must overcome the developmental tasks of establishing autonomy in relation to parents, sex-role identity, internalized morality and career choice. Throughout this series, Elliot struggles with identity confusion in many aspects of her life ranging from her experiences at the hospital to her experiences with relationships and in the bedroom.

When an individual like Elliot does not overcome the tasks of each developmental stage, they develop a core pathology which thus sets them up for continued failure. As seen in episode 19 of season 1, Elliot exhibits the core pathologies associated with adaptive failures in early school age, middle school age as well as early and late adolescence. These failures result in problems expressing thoughts, paralysis of thought and action, prevention of productive work and finally rejection of roles and values along with a skewed view of social norms. Erikson’s theory is based off the idea that development is based off successfully completely each stage. Conversely, when an individual has success at overcoming the development tasks of a specific stage they are capable of freely sticking to their morals and avoiding identity confusion. Had Elliot’s parents had a healthy relationship and had been supportive during her earlier developmental stages she might have developed a success identity instead of constantly questioning her purpose in life and having low self esteem.

In episode 19 titled “My Old Man”, Elliot’s parents come to Sacred Heart to attend a presentation she was asked to make. During this episode, the viewer is immediately made aware when Mrs. Reid says, “Honey, is there a rule against looking pretty here?”, that Elliot comes from an extremely materialistic family. When her father meets Bob Kelso, the chief of medicine at Sacred Heart, he announces himself as chief of medicine at St. Augustine’s, a private hospital in Greenwich. Her mother promptly says to Elliot under her breath, “I know what you’re thinking… no one asked… nobody ever does.” Her “pompous and self-righteous” father and “materialistic” mother seem to have a very surface relationship not only with Elliot but with each other. Elliot stresses about trying to make her father proud until she runs into Dr. Kelso whom promptly tells her that he “didn’t become a doctor to impress [his] daddy, or anyone else” and that he has seen many doctor’s like herself quit and become real estate agents.

This conversation along with the core pathologies she developed due to her developmental failures causes Elliot to worry if she made the right career choice and eventually she has the realization that she must seek autonomy from her parents. Because of the help of her friends and co-workers at Sacred Heart, Elliot realizes that despite the fact that she became a doctor for all the wrong reasons, there was no reason to regret her career choice because she lucked out and ended up doing exactly what she loved. Elliot’s inner dilemmas in regard to her self esteem and career choice along with her struggle to achieve autonomy from her parents closely mirror the crises, pathologies and tasks of Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages.

The Big Five/Five Factor Model

The Big Five Personality Traits also known as the Five Factor Model defines human personality based on the constructs of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Of these five traits, extroversion and agreeable are the two traits that are most readily and easily perceived by others.
In episode 1 of season 3, Elliot’s extroversion proves to be a very fluid characteristic. In many situations, such as her first encounter to radiology technician Dr. Moyer and with many older doctors in the hospital, Elliot lets people walk all over her. In this particular situation, Dr. Moyer refuses to run a test for her and says, “see, I got you pegged as one of those spineless types that’s not gonna cause me any trouble no matter what I do.” After Moyer insults her, Elliot walks away with no argument thus showing her personality to be low in extroversion in dominance. Later in the episode, Elliot experiences a moment of realization and decides that she is not going to let people take advantage of her anymore. After getting a makeover to boost her self esteem, she marches into Moyer’s office threatening to “spend every waking second helping [the patient he refused to see] figure out how to physically and financially bitch-slap [him]” even if the end result was both Moyer and Elliot getting fired. Moments like this when Elliot finds the courage to stand up for herself make it extremely difficult to pinpoint if she is high or low in extroversion.

In the pilot episode titled “My First Day”, Elliot characterizes herself for the viewers and her new co-workers at Sacred Heart when she says “everyone probably thinks I’m ‘Miss Hyper Competitive’. I mean, it used to be a big problem for me.” By "jumping the gun" and self categorizing herself before anyone else has the time to make their own judgments, Elliot shows characteristics of someone who is high in neuroticism. Someone who is defined as neurotic by the Big Five is someone who is emotionally instable and shows signs of anxiety, hostility and depression. This trend continues for Elliot in many of the episodes in the next nine seasons. One episode titled “Her Story” for example is entirely narrated by her subconscious and truly exhibits her neuroticism especially when she thinks to herself “okay, you can't bend that way anymore, 'cause when you do, that last vertebrae above your butt sticks out and makes you look like a prehistoric camel.” Throughout the course of the 9 seasons, Elliot’s neuroticism always seems to be a very dominant characteristic of her personality.

Elliot proves to be low in agreeableness in “My First Day” when she complains to Carla, a female nurse, about how she is tired of all the male doctor’s calling her sweetheart and then proceeds to insult the fact that Carla got caught hooking up in the on-call room and wearing a thong. Had Elliot simply made small talk with Carla about the other doctor’s mistreatment, they might have gotten along but instead, Elliot’s low agreeableness causes her to have a hard time being friendly. Carla’s disagreement with Elliot is obvious when she argues back that “some days, I need to feel good about something around here. And you judge me? Well, guess what, word does get around, Miss "Out For Herself", so you can dump on everyone here if you want; but you will not hurt me.” Furthermore, Elliot lacks in agreeableness when she shows off her knowledge in front of the other interns during rounds. This results in almost everyone thinking she is annoying and overly competitive.

In “My Porcelain God”, Elliot’s conscientiousness becomes apparent after she makes a mistake while intubating a patient and almost kills him. After this one mistake, her confidence in herself is lost and she avoids intubating patients at all costs. Elliot brings her problem to Dr. Cox, a resident at the hospital that the interns look up to, and says “I can’t seem to intubate patients anymore. I mean, I used to do that better than anyone here.” Her conscientiousness after this one small mistake halts her ability to treat patients until the end of the episode where she has an epiphany and is able to overcome her fear. Dr. Cox says to Elliot “well done, there Barbie. You’re now exactly where you were three years ago.” His lack of enthusiasm about her new found ability to do such a simple task characterizes the extreme extent of her conscientiousness and how quickly Elliot loses faith in herself.

Elliot’s personality proves to be high in openness in such that even though she appears to be a know it all, she is always going to her friends for help. Furthermore, despite the fact that Dr. Cox is always very sarcastic and rude toward her, she continually runs to him for help. She is always looking to learn from the people around her and always open to advice to help her through her dilemmas. In “Her Story”, the entire episode focuses on Elliot looking for a mentor to give her confidence and teach her to become a better person and doctor.


Elliot Reid’s lack of faith and self-esteem despite the fact that she is an incredibly intelligent and successful doctor make her a complex and interesting personality to study. The strong negative effect of her parent’s relationship on her psychosocial developmental growth shows in the dilemmas Elliot faces daily on the set of Scrubs. Furthermore, Elliot’s classifications under the Big Five Personality traits are very complex and fluid throughout the series. She is a character who is constantly learning from the dilemmas she gets herself into and is always looking to better herself as an individual. Elliot constantly struggles to find her identity and become a secure, confident woman. Her growth over the course of nine seasons defines her as a character that many people can relate to and learn from.


Hobert, T. & Weinberg, E. (Writers), Bernstein, A. (Director). (2004, February 17). “My Porcelain God.” Scrubs. National Broadcasting Company. Hobert, T. & Weinberg, E. (Writers), Bernstein, A. (Director). (2003, October 2). “My American Girl.” Scrubs. National Broadcasting Company. Lawrence, B. (Writer), Bernstein, A. (Director). (2001, October 2). “My First Day.” Scrubs. National Broadcasting Company. Nissel, A (Writer), Inwood, J. (Director). (2004, September 28). “Her Story.” Scrubs. National Broadcasting Company. Tarses, M. (Writer), Bernstein, A. (Director). “My Old Man.” Scrubs. National Broadcasting Company.