Fictional medical characters such as Dr Watson and Dr Kildare are better known to British people than their pioneering real counterparts, according to a survey by health insurer BCWA.
59% of the 1,012 people questioned could identify Sherlock Holmes's imaginary sidekick, but only 37% were familiar with nurse Florence Nightingale. Important figures from British medical history, including surgeon Joseph Lister and Edward Jenner, who developed the smallpox vaccination, were less recognisable to those polled than fictional characters such as TV's Dr Frasier Crane.
Dr Watson proved the most identifiable figure in the survey, followed by Sir Alexander Fleming, the biologist who discovered penicillin, who was named correctly by 51% of those questioned.
In third place, recognised by 47% of those asked, was fictional 1960s television medic Dr Kildare.
More people correctly identified George Clooney's ER character, Dr Doug Ross, than could name real-life medical pioneers such as Mary Seacole or Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Only 9% of those questioned recognised Garrett Anderson as the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain, and one in five confused her with Nightingale.
Jamie Wilson, managing director of BCWA, says: "This nation owes people like Sir Alexander Fleming and Joseph Lister a huge debt of gratitude, and there is a danger that those who changed the world of medicine for the better are becoming forgotten."