When Mirtha Macri, DO, an emergency physician in New York City, was approached about being prominently featured in a documentary series set in her hospital, she said it seemed very out of the blue.
Filmmakers Adi Barash and Ruthie Shatz were looking to create a similar series to one they’d filmed at a hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel, called Ichilov. After reviewing some of that show and interviewing with them, Dr. Macri said she felt comfortable being a large part of what eventually became a nine-episode series on Netflix called Lenox Hill.
Nonetheless, with no prior acting or on-camera experience, seeing patients while on camera took some getting used to, she said.
“I developed a lot of respect for actors, but this wasn’t even acting, it was just being recorded and doing my job,” Dr. Macri said. “There was some level of discomfort in the beginning. But it’s a very small crew; just one or both of them holding cameras. There was some point, I remember, that I began to forget the camera was even there.”
The first eight episodes of Lenox Hill, which follows the professional (and often personal) lives of four New York physicians working in various areas of a major hospital, were filmed in 2018 and 2019. They were released on June 10 and received glowing reviews. A special bonus episode filmed during COVID-19 was released later in June.
In this edited Q&A, Dr. Macri discusses what filming the show was like, what she hopes viewers learn from it, and what she has been up to since the release.
What did you think of the show when you first watched it?
It was so wonderful to watch. I didn’t know the other doctors in the series very well because we’re from different specialties, so I had no idea what kind of people they were. So it was really wonderful to watch them work, too. I appreciated how the filmmakers portrayed us. I had a good idea of what their angle was as they filmed, so I wasn’t surprised by what I saw, but I was very happy with what they created.
When it came time to film our special, additional COVID-19 episode [released on June 24], I had been working with the filmmakers for months, so I felt at ease. I knew it would be emotionally driven and intense, since I was separated from my son and husband at that time for precautionary reasons, but we had developed a solid relationship, so I was comfortable with them filming during that time.
What was the process for getting patients’ consent to film like?
We had to have everybody consent beforehand, which is very challenging in an emergency medicine environment. There were very strict parameters. Everybody had to have the capacity to consent. There were a lot of things we couldn’t film, like if someone was in cardiac arrest.
Most people were very much at ease because they were approached by the filmmakers, who made the environment very relaxed. We were filming [for the first eight episodes, in 2018 and 2019] in an emergency room that had just opened in 2014, so everybody had their own private room. That helped as well, because you could easily close the door or curtain.
Have you been recognized by patients since the release?
I just recently had my second child three weeks ago, and I’ve been on maternity leave. But before then, people were asking about me or requesting me. I did some virtual medicine and people would recognize me that way when I was seeing them for sore throats. There has been a lot of very positive reception in New York and New Jersey.
What do you hope viewers learn about medicine from watching the show?
I hope they learn an appreciation for the sacrifices health care workers make, pandemic or not. I would also like for people to see that just because we’re physicians doesn’t mean we don’t have personal lives. Many of us make a lot of sacrifices to make our patients’ lives better.
People should also be able to see that emergency medicine is unique, because we see a lot of people who are uninsured, come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or don’t have the means to get follow-up treatment. We have to be more than doctors sometimes. We have to be social workers, or sometimes housing coordinators. It’s a very challenging field both medically and personally. To practice emergency medicine, you have to be strong-willed and a good multi-tasker, and you also have to be compassionate.
To you, what are the main take-home messages from Lenox Hill?
It couldn’t have come out at a more important time, in terms of how people view and appreciate this show, because it really touches on all of the subjects at top of mind for everybody right now, from the pandemic to protests against societal inequities.
It should also remind both patients and physicians of how important it is for both parties to have a good, trusting relationship. When you’re in an emergency room, you’re met with so many mental and physical challenges, and you need a relationship built on compassion and empathy. That’s the most basic thing that you can provide as a physician.