In this blog I hope to give you an idea of what to expect when working in the film and TV industry as a medic, including the sort of medicine you might encounter and some of the challenges you could face.
Who can work as a TV/film medic?
In theory anyone with appropriate training can apply to work as a medic in the entertainment industry. Productions will tend to recruit a range of different healthcare professionals depending on the type of project, where it is being filmed and the potential risks involved: for example, covering a TV set for a sitcom has a significantly different risk profile than working on a survival series in an austere wilderness location, and accordingly the person specification will differ as a result of this.
As with traditional expedition medicine work, it is important to come from a generalist background, and be comfortable with managing uncertainty, as you may be a long way from definitive care. You should be comfortable with managing unwell patients, whether this is due to trauma or a medical cause, and you should also have experience in managing women’s health, sexual health and chronic diseases.
Unlike many expeditions, you will often have a much larger logistics team with producers to help plan, co-ordinate and finance possible medical evacuations, however this does not mean that you can afford to be complacent, and it is always prudent to review any risk assessments, and medivac plans prior to arriving in country.
What kind of medicine might I see?
Anything can happen in the wilderness that can happen back home. Common things are common and a lot of the time you are caring for the support crew as much as the cast or participants.
On a large production your theoretical patient list can stretch into the hundreds or thousands, with carpenters, electricians, boat drivers, divers, cooks, cameramen, audio technicians and more, who are all subject to occupational injuries and trauma.
It is therefore vital to understand the risks involved and how to mitigate for these, in order to reduce your workload and prevent unnecessary morbidity and mortality. It is also important to have your public health hat on, to prevent and manage issues like gastroenteritis outbreaks, which can delay filming and significantly impact on production timelines.
Depending on where you are working, there may be environmental issues to consider. These may include extremes of temperature, altitude, flora and fauna, tropical diseases, contaminated water sources, and the risk of drowning. As with all wilderness medicine scenarios, mental health and psychological issues are always relevant and important to identify early on whenever possible.
What are the potential challenges?
Unlike when working on an expedition, you may not have pre-existing knowledge of the entire cast and crew, although hopefully you should be informed about any individuals with high risk issues, such as a history of anaphylaxis or similar. As with all medical work, there is the potential risk of non-disclosure, and individuals may also have a history of, or ongoing substance misuse issues, which can have a significant impact.
You may frequently be working with an organisation that employs a multi-national workforce. This is one of the huge benefits of this type of work and networking, meeting new people, and sharing experiences can be hugely rewarding.
It can however be challenging at times if you are faced with health beliefs that are significantly different to what you are used to within western medicine. In these cases, developing a shared management plan may be difficult or impossible and this can be hard to accept.
Sometimes you may have to balance production ideas against patient safety and risk, and this can be tricky as you may often have different competing objectives: they want to create drama, tension and make a show, whilst you are there to ensure that this happens safely and treat any complications.
This can potentially lead to a juxtaposition of what should happen next for the individuals in question. Being able to articulate your concerns, discuss the pros and cons and negotiate a safe compromise is really important and having a good understanding of human factors can be really useful click here to read about human factors in more detail.
What are the best bits?
As with a lot of wilderness medicine work, the ability to travel to beautiful remote locations and become part of a new team of people with varying skills from multiple background is immensely rewarding.
It is great to be able to chat to people working in different departments, find out about their journeys and experiences and potentially pick up some skills for future projects. It is also fascinating to observe the process by which a media production comes together and how so many moving parts combine to deliver the final project.
How to get involved?
As with all wilderness medicine work, it is important to get used to working in a pre-hospital environment, outside of a GP or hospital setting. Completing a course or diploma can be a helpful foundation for this but it is important to get practical experience as well.
I hope this blog has given a flavour of what it can be like providing TV or film cover as a medic. There is a helpful section within the Oxford Handbook of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine which expands on some of these themes and ideas which is vital reading if you hope to work in this industry in the future.