Hollywood has done it again! On Sept. 28, I sat down with my popcorn, eager to watch the much-anticipated premiere of NBC's new show Trauma. But within 10 minutes, I was extremely disappointed. Despite Hollywood's poor track record with EMS, I was really expecting more. NBC advertised the show as "an intense, action-packed look at one of the most dangerous medical professions."I guess I assumed this "look" at EMS was going to be somewhat realistic and not an insult to every EMS professional—especially EMS managers. Think about it: The anarchistic, self-centered and unethical characters suggest a complete lack of leadership. Would you ever hire these people?
More than Entertainment
It's a shame NBC didn't take the chance to create a more accurate depiction of EMS. Although part of the entertainment industry, TV and film are more than just entertainment. Done right, they can inspire change.
Many people my age lined up to become firefighters and paramedics because of Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto on Emergency! I wish I had a nickel for everyone who told me they became a paramedic because of that show. There's no doubt it created an entire generation of paramedics, just like the movie Top Guncreated a huge wave of people who wanted to be fighter pilots.
In contrast, I wonder how many teens and young adults contemplating their careers might have sat down and watched Trauma and, after watching paramedics being intimate in the back of an ambulance or observing the sexist attitude of the flight paramedic, were turned off not just from the show but also from our amazing profession.
Some have contended that the sex and other dramatic scenes might attract younger, impressionable people to the profession, but I'm not sure those recruits are the ones we're looking for.
Quite frankly, for those who turned it off, I don't blame them. After about 20 minutes, I switched over to Monday Night Football. But as I watched the Cowboys beat the Panthers, I couldn't help but think about the show. Where did they find their technical adviser? How do the actual EMS crews in San Francisco feel?
The other thoughts that crept into my mind were all the negative images Hollywood has created for EMS over the years—Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976), Paramedics (1987), Broken Vessels (1998), Bringing Out the Dead (1999), and the latest in the pack (which I didn't even bother to see),Skid Marks (2007). Some of these films received decent reviews and were probably enjoyed by moviegoers, but they weren't exactly embraced by the EMS community.
The other issue is how Hollywood affects our patient-provider relationships. TV and movies have the power to educate the public on what to expect during an emergency, but they haven't succeeded in this effort lately.
Call to Action
It's undeniable that Hollywood makes movies in order to sell tickets, and unfortunately, EMS has been suffering from these money-making ventures. But maybe these movies and TV shows aren't a disappointment as much as an opportunity.
As most of us know JEMS founding publisher Jim Page was the technical adviser for Emergency! On several occasions, I heard him talk about scripts that had been over the top and portrayed EMS in a negative way. He said he often objected, and sometimes the directors would change the script. One time, there was supposed to be a scene in which an attractive female walked into the fire station and Johnny Gage (played by Randy Mantooth) leered and gawked at her. Jim said he strongly objected because he didn't want firefighter/paramedics to be seen in that light. Thankfully, the directors agreed and dropped the scene.
We can't all be Jim Page, but we can model his sense of duty. This newest portrayal of EMS gives us a timely context to provide re-training on appropriate patient interaction and to reinforce professionalism in the field. Make sure your crews are effectively communicating with their patients and aware of how to respectfully dispel Hollywood myths. And maybe you can have your crews watch the show and call out every poor choice of words or inaccurate clinical technique. They'll get a kick out of how bad it is, and you'll remember that your employees are nothing like that.
The show has been cancelled already, but something else will eventually replace it and attempt to capture the excitement and drama of EMS. I've always wondered if John Wayneƒthe ultimate heroic character—were alive and had the opportunity to play a paramedic, what that movie would be like. I think I'd like it! JEMS
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