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Real-Life 'Grey's Anatomy' Stars New York-Presbyterian Hospital Staff

By Amy Zimmer | July 3, 2012 12:31pm
New York Presbyterian's medical staff stars in a new ABC News documentary series, NY Med.
New York Presbyterian's medical staff stars in a new ABC News documentary series, NY Med.
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ABC/Donna Svennevik

MANHATTAN — Move over "Grey’s Anatomy." A new show about the drama of hospitals is heading to television.

Except these doctors are the real deal.

New York-Presbyterian Hospital — and its facilities at Weill Cornell Medical Center on the Upper East Side and Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights — is starring in "NY Med," an eight-part documentary series produced by ABC News, premiering on Tuesday, July 10 at 10 p.m.

Camera crews from ABC had unprecedented access to the surgery rooms and bedsides of patients for nearly a year. They followed the non-stop action of doctors, residents and nurses — including renowned heart surgeon and television star Dr. Mehmet Oz — as they worked over time with various patients.

"They literally moved in with us," said Robert E. Kelly, president of New York-Presbyterian. "It was like reporters, who are embedded with troops overseas. They lived and breathed with us."

The crews were perhaps "a little" distracting "the first day," he said, but "the cameras disappeared pretty quickly."

Kelly said the hospital staff is accustomed to having cameras — medical procedures are often videotaped and used as teaching tools. Also, it's common for doctors to make rounds in groups of up to 10 staffers, so having a big crowd following patients around wasn’t out of the ordinary either.

The hours of footage ABC collected were "too numerous to count," said Kelly, who explained that the hospital had no editorial control over the program and has not even seen the series yet.

The medical staff will have an advanced screening on Monday and then will watch the premiere together Tuesday night at some Irish pubs near their campuses — Coogan’s on Broadway and 169th Street, near Columbia, and Murphy’s Law on East 70th Street between First and York avenues, near Weill Cornell.

Of course, patients in the program gave their consent, in what Kelly described as "a rigorous process" to ensure no one felt coerced.

The show features the emotional tale of an expectant mother, whose baby has many heart abnormalities. A competitive collegiate swimmer, whose arm was badly damaged in a car crash, needed nerve-graft surgery to restore motion along with her dream of returning to the pool. A man with terrible liver disease hoped for a transplant so he could walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

"If you watch something like 'Grey's Anatomy,' the stories from beginning to end are in artificial time," Kelly said. "These are real stories, following someone in surgery, then five weeks later and eight weeks later. It may look artificial. It's like time-lapse photography in a sense."

The ABC News documentary team had done prior shows on hospitals, for "Hopkins" about Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital and "Boston Med," following Harvard’s three teaching hospitals, Mass General, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital.

Kelly was pleased that New York-Presbyterian was following in the footsteps of other world-class medical institutions and hoped the show raised its profile across the country.

"It will put us on a national stage," Kelly said. "You’ll see there are people from New York saying, 'I’m going to Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic'" — even though he said there are top doctors here. "We get people coming from all over the country and the world."

He was also proud to show off the New York character of his staff.

"New Yorkers are different from the rest of the country and this captures the personality of our staff," Kelly said.

Though New Yorkers are sometimes "demonized" as being rude, Kelly believes these stories of the patients, doctors and nurses will show, "New Yorkers are really good people."