Consider the testimonial of a first-time medical videographer: "The very first thing that I ever shot was open-heart surgery and I mean they cut the chest right open, they split it," recalls Dan Welch of New York Video Crews. "We were doing a piece on alternative kinds of treatments, so while this person had his heart worked on, a healer was massaging his head. That was really the angle we were shooting. But I did go and stand over the guy and shoot down into his chest. There was a moment where I was saying to myself, ‘OK, how do I feel about this?' but I felt fine—so I just kept going."
If the preceding passage incited feelings of nausea, chances are you are not suited for life in the O.R. But if your curiosity has not waned, dabbling in the medical videography arena could keep you working during the week and bolster your off-season income.
DV in the O.R.
Medical videography projects may include outpatient documentaries or other non-surgical affairs, but when most in the field speak about their work, more often than not, they're talking about surgery. Routine procedures do not generally warrant the services of a medical videographer, but surgeons performing revolutionary procedures or testing new prototypes will often call in a professional camera crew to ensure a quality production.
The captured footage then can be used to train medical students or be presented at conferences, and the nature of the final product depends upon the function and the audience. Educational procedures can yield quite lengthy productions, since students or interns may be learning about the procedure for the first time and thus require more exhaustive coverage to understand it, while a conference piece to be shared among peers may not require the same degree of detail. Michael Killips, former LTE specialist at the School of Nursing and current manager of classroom and A/V services at the Health Sciences Learning Center at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, explains the differences. "If the surgeon was showing it to all of these other surgeons, they already know how to do the whole process up until that point. They obviously know how to make the first incision, so they don't need to see that. They just need to see the core difference of a procedure."
Yet, not all surgery-based footage targets those in the medical field. On occasion, a video may be created with the patient's perspective in mind. Greg Bukshowany of Crystal Clear Productions recently produced a piece that aimed to calm patient fears about a particular operation, "The point of the video was to show how easy the procedure was and that it's not painful," Bukshowany says. "We would take shots of the patient on the table talking on the cell phone, a very tight shot of her. Then the camera pulls back, and you see that she's getting liposuction while she's having a conversation!"
Back to School?
One of the barriers that event videographers tend to encounter when they try to break into legal videography is the learning curve (See Stephen F. Nathans' "Court DV," October 2004, pp. 42-48). While the video technique required is usually well within most pro videographers' comfort zones, the presumed familiarity with legal protocol and the admissibility of various types of video evidence is quite substantial. By the same token, filming a liposuction or open-heart surgery must require a host of medical expertise and prior knowledge, right?
Not so, medical videographers say. What makes the field of medical video inviting in comparison to other specialized disciplines like legal video, is the fact that very little medical knowledge is required. As Bukshowany quips, "When I first got into it, I didn't even know how to put on a band-aid."
Fortunately, for Bukshowany and others, most surgeons will become the acting director for the piece. The surgeons performing the procedure obviously know much more about human anatomy, and they know what aspects of the surgery the videographer need to be covered in the video. However, given the requisite shot list, it's the videographer who knows how best to capture the surgical procedure effectively. Therefore, a strong symbiotic relationship will ensure the correct footage is committed to tape. "You don't always have to understand the anatomy and that kind of thing," Killips says, "but you need to have an understanding of what the people are looking for."
Aside from hours of dedicated TV surgery viewing, the next-best way to understand the surgical procedure you've been hired to shoot is to schedule a meeting with the surgeons to outline the essential elements of the procedure. "We always have conversations with the surgeon or whoever is requesting the video to understand what it is they want to see" Killips says. "We need to understand what the key components of the surgery were."