September 5, 2003

‘Resident Life:’ Reality TV lands at Vanderbilt in a national cable show that focuses upon the challenges faced by residents

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Frank Scholl is one of the 26 residents prominently featured in "Resident Life", a new reality show on The Learning Channel. The show begins Monday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.

‘Resident Life:’ Reality TV lands at Vanderbilt in a national cable show that focuses upon the challenges faced by residents

Long before catty Richard and Susan the bitter truck driver were stranded with an odd collection of odd people on a tropical island, Vanderbilt, its staff and patients were veterans of reality TV on The Learning Channel's Trauma: Life in the ER and Maternity Ward.

This fall, residents fill the small screen, in a new series that’s the first of its kind, to enlighten the world about physician training.

Resident Life tells the stories of 26 Vanderbilt residents from 18 academic departments and their up-and-down worlds of professional and personal challenges and recreational diversions.

Dr. Chuck Stevenson, a third-year neurosurgery resident, appears in several episodes as a confident young surgeon humbled by realities of life and death. He wanted to participate, he said, to publicize Vanderbilt's unique neurosurgery care and to "give people an inside view of what resident life is like. If their only knowledge of medicine is what they saw on ER, they don't have a good idea of what residents do."

Senior producer Wendy Greene says the goal, besides compelling educational entertainment, was to examine a part of medical training few people, unless they're a part of it, realize.

"People sort of know about medical school, it's a big grind," Greene said. "But we wanted to explain residency. It's an incredibly intense part of these people's lives that hasn't been focused on in this way. They're responsible for taking care of a lot of people, and they do it well."

New York Times Television produced the show for TLC. For five and a half months in the winter and spring of this year, 13 videographers shadowed the subjects in surgery, on rounds and in clinic.

But Resident Life aimed to also include the residents' personalities and personal conundrums: Pilar and Victor Levy juggle their marriage and their two children with her pediatric residency and his fellowship in pediatric cardiology; Joel Maier, a burn fellow, overcomes stress by climbing the hospital's 11 floors' of stairs four times; Adele Maurer dumps her fifth year of trauma residency for pathology; cardiothoracic surgery fellow and transplant team member Frank Scholl suddenly becomes a medical consumer after his and his wife Shelley's new baby Madison is sent to the NICU; Jim Bob Faulk explores the depths of mud in his monster truck; Jason Shipman emerges as a surgeon and Seinfeld-esque comedian who challenges the lab coat protocol; and Stevenson picks up a nickname from nurses that sticks throughout the show.

Fred Starr in Psychiatry, Spencer Greene in Emergency Medicine, Rachel LaMar and Kristina Storck in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Justin Johnsen in Ophthalmology, and John Spooner in Neurosurgery also play prominently in the series.

Dr. Fred Kirchner, associate dean for Graduate Medical Education, has seen a preview of the first two episodes.

"It shows that our residents are three-dimensional people," he said. "It shows their outside activities at home or in recreation, it honestly portrays their competence and professionalism and also when they're a little insecure, that they're human. It shows that they have good faculty supervision. They come across as being competent and nice people, and I was well pleased" with the project.

VUMC news director John Howser oversaw the project internally. This was his fourth TLC project; his veteran's perspective helped Vanderbilt beat several competing academic medical centers for the show.

“We have a long-standing and very positive relationship with New York Times Television. Once again they were great to work with on this series,” Howser says. “It was the basis of our relationship and our willingness to allow them real access to our residency training programs that made this happen. I would like to thank NYT TV, and certainly all of our residents, faculty, and staff who participated on this project.”

Many patients are part of the story lines. Pre-HIPPA filming made shooting-before-consent possible on a few cases during the first few weeks of the project (every identifiable patient or hospital visitor eventually signed a video consent release). Now, Howser says, HIPPA rules, in effect since April 14, might make some parts of this series impossible to reproduce.

Another change since the time of filming is resident work hours. Many of the players worked 110 hours and more, but on July 1 an 80-hour work week was federally imposed.

Resident Life airs starting Monday on TLC (Comcast 45/ Dish Network 178/DirecTV 280) at 8 p.m. and continues for 13 consecutive weeks. The hour-long program repeats each week at 11 p.m. on Mondays and at 3 p.m. Saturdays.

TLC hired quirky rock band They Might be Giants to score an original theme, "Am I Awake." Resident bios, episode descriptions and the theme song's video are on the Web: