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April 04, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
The media has a tendency to romanticize doctors. From “Doctor Kildare” and “Ben Casey” to “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chicago Med,” and even “General Hospital,” we have been taking escapist journeys into the lives and dramas of medical professionals for years. But there’s a dark reality behind these glamorous stories, one that is killing both doctors and their patients, that “Do No Harm” director Robyn Symon wants to make sure we see.
“In 2014,” she recalls, “someone sent me an article about two young doctors who jumped from the roofs of their hospitals in New York City.” When she looked into the story further, she realized that the incidents were part of “a hidden epidemic that needs to be exposed and fixed.”
Symon comes from a family with many doctors, although her own path led tojournalism. After working as a TV reporter in Texas in the ’80s, she joined the production staff at PBS and has produced hundreds of shows, ranging from public affairs programs to documentaries and TV series. “Documentaries can take years to make,” she says, “so I choose subjects that will impact the widest audience and a topic where a film can have social impact, and perhaps contribute to solutions that make the world a safer place.”
As she dug into the story of the suicides, trying to figure out “the causes that would lead these brilliant young doctors to think that ending their lives was a logical solution to their problems,” she realized that their deaths were symptoms of “a toxic system that begins in medical school and then, when they become practicing physicians, they face a healthcare system that’s run more like an assembly line.”
That system, she realized, was killing patients as well as doctors. “Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US behind heart disease and cancer,” she points out. “One of the scariest discoveries was that . . . young doctors, residents, are working up to 28-hour shifts, taking care of patients when many studies show that after 16 hours the brain is not functioning normally.”
This system means that many new physicians are, “in a sense, set up to fail,” Symon says. And those failures are costly for all involved.
“One expert says ‘a night without sleep is like being legally drunk,’” she reveals. That level of impairment leads to errors that devastate patients, their families, and the doctors who begin to question their own competence and ability. Worse, the doctors have few resources to turn to. “The inability for physicians to get emotional help, because it could jeopardize their careers, leads to drug abuse and isolation.”
Symon hopes that her film can effect change for this broken system. “I would like audiences to . . . be more vigilant about the care you and loved ones are receiving. For physicians, this is a time to start talking openly about the bullying, the sleep deprivation—the corporatization of health care, and how we need to come together to ensure the highest standard of care. Do No Harm to doctors and patients.”
PHOTO: Robyn Symons is excited to hold the premiere of her film at the CIFF. “We hope physicians and patients will come to the screenings and engage in an open dialogue about the challenges we face in our health care system—and find pathways forward to make medicine more rewarding for our healers and safer for patients.”
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