Mekhi Phifer

10/10/2003 AT 10:00 AM EDT

From Clockers to County General, actor Mekhi Phifer has seen his star rise over the past few years, appearing opposite Eminem in 8 Mile (and even getting a shout-out in the rapper's hit "Lose Yourself") and joining the cast of NBC's Emmy-winning ER, where the New York-born actor plays the cocky Dr. Gregory Pratt.

In real life, Phifer, 28, plays proud papa to 3-year-old son Omikaye. The actor recently talked to PEOPLE about real-life medical professionals, plastic surgery – and that "funny smell" in hospitals.

What do you think of doctors?
Some of them can get a God complex, but they save lives so most of them are amazing and they can help you and save you. Doctors are great.

Do you see a doctor regularly?
Well, I see a doctor all the time, because every time you do a different project, you have to see a doctor. Yeah, I go to the doctor.

So you're not one of those guys who won't go unless there's a bone poking through your skin?
No, I am one of those cats. If I don't have to, I'm not going.

How do you feel when you're in a real hospital?
I don't really like hospitals that much. People are sick, sometimes it can be depressing. There's people going through a lot of pain in there. It has that funny smell.

How have your feelings about hospitals changed now that you work on a hospital set all the time?
Well, you know, I've never been on the other side of the desk being a doctor, so I do see that they have a huge workload and a lot going on. You gotta be on point. You just gotta know stuff off the top of your head and diagnose people, things of that nature, so it definitely gave me a newfound respect.

Did you ever want to be a doctor when you were a kid?
No, that really wasn't my thing. I wasn't really trying to be a doctor.

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