So, you want to be a medical script consultant?

Written by Vanesa Santilli on April 22 in The Medical Post

Dr. William Cherniak had his work cut out for him. As a medical script consultant on the short film Broken Heart Syndrome, he had a lovesick protagonist with takotsubo cardio­ myopathy—a condition where the heart can be “broken” by high levels of stress. But is dying of a broken heart medically possible, or just film fiction?

Dr. William Cherniak on set of the film Broken Heart Syndrome. (Photo by Erin Simkin/Inflo Films)

Dr. William Cherniak on set of the film Broken Heart Syndrome. (Photo by Erin Simkin/Inflo Films)

While the film’s director knew the condition could be fatal, he wanted to find a way for the heart to keep expanding until it didn’t function at all.

“I found out that could actually happen after having frequent attacks that mimic heart attacks, eventually causing him to go into heart failure,” said Dr. Cherniak, a family medicine resident at the University of Toronto.

With this knowledge, the writers were able to complete the script, which aired on CBC and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In Dr. Louise McNaughton­ Filion’s experience working as a script consultant on the TV drama Hard Rock Medical — which follows a fictional group of medical students in north­ern Ontario from first to fourth year — her role has involved everything from coaching actors on how physicians inter­act with each other to research­ing various natural remedies.

Dr. Louise McNaughton-Filion sits in on a reading for the TV series Hard Rock Medical. (Photo by Derek Diorio)

Dr. Louise McNaughton-Filion sits in on a reading for the TV series Hard Rock Medical. (Photo by Derek Diorio)

“I thought it was a great idea basing the show in the North and seeing how people evolve as they go through their training, and the social problems that can occur as you work as a physician and how you deal with them,” said Dr. McNaughton-­Filion, a coroner and emergency physician in Ottawa. “Those ideas are really important to get out.”

If you’re considering offer­ ing your medical expertise to Hollywood North, here are four tips to help you decide whether this line of work is for you.

1. Accept that artistic licence is taken

Dr. McNaughton­-Filion real­ized early on it was important to accept that she was advising the writers, not instructing. “It was very difficult sometimes because I would look at some of the situations and I’d say, ‘That’s not quite the way it would go.’ And they’d say, ‘Yes, but it doesn’t follow the story arc, so we can’t do it that way.’ ”

For physicians watching medical programs, it’s always hard to swallow inaccuracies. But no matter how good the medical consultants are, details will never be perfect because it’s not real, Dr. McNaughton- Filion added. “If it were real, either it would be super boring for the audience or it would be way too gory for them.”

To remedy this, whenever she found herself getting hung up on a detail—as long as it wasn’t a big inaccuracy—Dr. McNaughton­-Filion would remind herself the script was written for viewers to under­ stand the experience of med­ ical students on a basic level.

“They are the artists and they are the ones who have the liberty to write what they want to write,” she said of the show’s creators.

2. Ability to think outside the box is paramount

Being able to take a storyline and figure out how to make it medically plausible requires critical thinking skills. For example, there was one episode on Hard Rock Medical where the writers wanted a character to deliver her baby “in the bush” with no medical care whatsoever. Dr. McNaughton-Filion’s task was to figure out how to have a physician attend a high­risk pregnancy in the middle of nowhere accompan­ied by medical students.

“The only way that could possibly work—because it would be against both ethics and medical conscience—is if it were somebody’s sister.”

3. Word of mouth is critical in this work

Often, opportunities for doctors to serve as a script adviser come from a pre­existing connec­tion they have with someone involved in a show, noted Greg Spottiswood, creator and execu­tive producer of the new Can­adian medical drama Remedy.

“For Remedy, my colleague knew a doctor who he thought might be a good person to hook us up with,” Spottiswood explained. “What you do is you meet with that person, you talk about the show and you take their temperature in terms of their interest in doing this kind of work. It’s not like one puts an ad in the newspaper.”

Dr. Cherniak knew the director of Broken Heart Syndrome, and Dr. McNaughton­ Filion said one of the writers of Hard Rock Medical, who is a friend, approached her about becoming a consultant.

“I wouldn’t have been comfortable taking this on if I didn’t trust and enjoy working with (director) Derek (Diorio) and his team,” she said.

In terms of promoting ser­vices to future film clients, Dr. Cherniak maintains an active LinkedIn profile.

Dr. McNaughton-Filion’s approach to landing this kind of work is a bit more relaxed. “Opportunities arise when you are excited by what you do and you share your enthusiasm with others. Also, (it is helpful) if you don’t put a price tag on it.”

4. Don’t quit your day job

As much as script consult­ing is fun and interesting, “it’s not a full-time job,” said Dr. McNaughton-­Filion, who consulted in her spare time, outside of her full­time obligations. In terms of pay, she didn’t do it for the money. “It’s much less than I could make clinic­ ally. . . I like to call it one of my volunteer jobs for the arts.”

In Dr. Cherniak’s experience, the workload was minimal. “It was about a half hour to an hour every couple of weeks of just answering questions. And then, after script development, I helped out on site during the actual filming process,” which took place over four days in Toronto. But the pay is highly variable,” he added.

27 thoughts on “So, you want to be a medical script consultant?

  1. I am very interested in doing this as I have been looking for a way to merge my training and creativity. I am currently a Radiology resident with background in medicine.

  2. I know this is long after Dec 2014 but I’m very interested in pursuing this line of work. I have been an Academic Family Physician for over 20 years and have experience in ER, teaching and course development.

  3. I’m a primary care physician (IM/PM&R) who in New Orleans, LA who has made the switch from clinical practice to a non-clinical career in medicine. One of the fields that I’ve had an interest in for some time now has been medical script editing. With the success of Hollywood South here in my hometown I’d love to have the opportunity to talk with you to gain an insight into the industry, and possibly work with you if you are seeking help. Look forward to hearing from you.

  4. I am interested in doing some consulting as a nurse that works in the Operating room with 15 years experience.

  5. I am interested in doing some consulting as needed. I am a nurse with 15 years of operating room experience in trauma and vascular surgeries as my strongest specialties. I, however, have extensive experience in several specialties.

  6. Just retired after more than 30 years as a family physician. Looking to do some consulting. Sounds great.

  7. I am a general surgeon in Phoenix, AZ. I am available anytime for consultation for film, television, and other projects. I have been in active clinical practice since 1999 and have educational affiliations with Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona regarding teaching of students and residents. My practice covers all manner of general surgery, cancer, trauma, minimally invasive and robotic surgery, critical care and palliative care. As such I have great familiarity with operating room functionality, appearance, protocol; as well as numerous medical devices, instruments, robotic surgical equipment (Da Vinci and Titan platforms), and electronic monitoring equipment.

    For years I have done consulting as Phoenix Medical Consulting, LLC for the legal industry assisting attorneys with medical and health care issues related to their cases. I would like to offer my experience to assisting in film and television projects. I believe I have a great fund of experience and knowledge to offer…plus I think it would be fun and rewarding to participate!

    Ed Charles

  8. I am a General Internal Medicine Specialist with specialized training in Cardiology and Hepatology as well as transplantation. I am looking for alternative avenues to expand and diversify my training. I was looking to become a medical consultant. Please contact me at my email

  9. I have practiced invasive/non invasive cardiology for over thirty years and would like to do consulting work for movie scripts.

  10. I am a nurse with over 25 years experience. I would love to do some consulting as I am weary of hearing peers complain about realistic medical scenarios.

    Melissa A Rouches

  11. I’m a nurse for 30 or so years & I have worked multiple areas of specialties, with quite a bit of artistic bent. At this point in my life i want to explore that artistic bend and do something with it.
    I realize medical consultants are limited by the story line, etc. But what puzzles me are the little details i see in medical shots that are quite apparent even the most novice of medical personnels like an oral endotracheal tube that is not tapped & just held in the actors closed mouth; or when an actor rips out an IV & does not bleed; or an IV on the left arm & the next shot is on the right.
    These are the things that i think I would be able to help & advise the director or crew. Help make the shots or scenes more believable.
    I have no idea how I would get into this business; but I would so love to be part of it.

  12. This is all very interesting. I am currently a working
    RN in a very active hospital filled with natural TV drama. The stories I hear and things I see is well suited for TV. What a fun and exciting adventure working in both industries!! I would be interested iin finding out more about becoming a Script advisor if the need is there. Please email me Dr.Cherniak it would be a pleasure to have a shot at an interview.

  13. Am prior Home health, Float Pool, Med-Surge RN. Currently working in OB/GYN clinic. Work with the best staff and providers. I also have my associate in communication. Editing and writing is my forte. Would be available to discuss consulting. Thank you.

  14. I am a practicing physician of over 30 years and have extensive expertise in general medical knowledge, especially as it is applied to the human condition: both in the clinical education of young physicians and facilitating healing in patients.
    I began my training in pathology and have performed 60 autopsies, several of which were forensic. My board certification is in Internal Medicine and I practice primary care medicine. I also have expertise in rendering expert medical opinion in medical-legal cases and have been accepted as an expert witness in federal court.
    The genesis of this reply stems from my love of the theatre and I like to envision screenplays as on stage, also I am currently reading “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Please contact me if you need to run something by a well rounded physician. Thanks , Dr. T with a J.O.B. (Journey Of Benevolence)

  15. Hello !
    As a nurse of 34 years experience, mostly OR and TRAUMA, I am available for consultation on projects. Please contact JeanPulinka. Mail is I reside in the Philadelphia, Pa. area.

    Many thanks.


  16. i am a board certified Urologist trained at a major teaching hospital in NYC Columbia -Presbyterian with training in general surgery as well. I also have 15 year experience treating children at a summer camp. Presently i’m working 3 days a week in my office and will return 12/31/18. I would be interested in medical script consulting or any other aspect of medical shows. I also hold a patent on a medical device land have sold another device to a medical device manufacturer. I have published several papers as well.

  17. This is something I have always wondered about. I am an RN with 15 years experience In ED, Cardiac Cath, and Wound Care including hyperbaric. I love to travel and I am open to new things. Currently, I am also in the process of obtaining my Masters degree in Nurse Practitioner school, specifically family medicine… If there is anything out there right now for someone with my background I would be really interested in hearing more. Please feel free to contact me via email at
    Best Regards,
    Dina Lyons RN

  18. This is something I would enjoy doing someday. I’m a Surgical Assistant with 10 years Operating Room experience. I’m definitely a critic when it comes to scenes in the OR that are incorrect.
    I would be interested in discussing any future projects.

  19. Good evening! I am a Physician Assistant with 18 years of experience in surgery, trauma, and surgical and medical critical care. I also have 10 years of experience as an ER trauma and ICU RN with additional experience in the pre-hospital environment as an EMT and paramedic. I have experience consulting on a current major network television program and also two independent films. I am interested in growing this work and I am available for telephone consultations as well as face-to-face meetings and on location consultations, all on short notice. I am an avid movie and TV viewer and understand the essential elements of story arc, maintaining flow and character development and can bring my extensive experience to your project, while adhering to those principles, to ensure accuracy, suspense and enjoyment for your viewers.

  20. I am a respiratory therapist with over 20 years of experience. I would love to speak to you regarding my ideas as to how to make oxygen masks and cannulas appear more believable. I would love to speak to you and be considered for future projects.

  21. Hi I am an RN working mostly in Obstetrics for 20 years! As a travel nurse I have many resources and feel very confident in my knowledge and skills and ability to research. Im currently working in Hollywood but can go anywhere as my current career is flexible with months off at a time if id like! Please contact me if I can be of help.
    Sincerely, Krysta

  22. I graduated from university of California San Diego in 1984 . At there paramedic training program. I worked as a mobile intensive care technician.i was a 911 responding first in 911. I also have a unique combination of skills as I worked for 15 years in An E.R at Kona Community Hospital. I have over 40,000 clinical hours . I have training RNs do not. Plus the clinical experience they do have I have both sides of emergency medicine. The pre hospital care and the Clinical in hospital care I believe that these skill would be of great value .
    Sincerely Kenneth Martell
    P.O box 2512
    Kealakekua Hi 96750

  23. Hi Vanessa!
    I enjoy reading your articles and loved the piece on Iceland. I am interested in medical consulting for television and film. After retiring from medical practice I continued with my life long gift of writing and publishing. Please send me some referrals/resources. My email is below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *