“Medical Dramas? They Might As Well Be Fantasy, This Is Not How Real Life Operates.”

OKRE Speaks to Top Surgeon About Why He Said 'Yes' to Advising on Hit TV Drama...

Professor Kourosh Saeb-Parsy, Professor of Transplantation at the University of Cambridge, is one of the country’s leading surgeons and medical professionals. He found himself frustrated by some of the medical dramas on TV. Either they were factually very inaccurate or else so simplified that they lost credibility.

And he knew many of his professional colleagues felt the same:

“They might as well be fantasy,” Said Professor Saeb-Parsy, “this is not how real life operates.”

So when OKRE approached him to consult on a highly rated TV drama produced by HTM Productions, he said it felt like an intresting and inspiring thing to do.

“I think most people, given the opportunity to exert a positive influence (over a storyline relevant to them) would like to do so, but they want to make sure that they’re dealing with a company that is credible, has integrity, is transparent and willing to listen.”

Once the introduction was made by OKRE, the conversation was picked up quickly and efficiently notes Professor Saeb-Parsy.

Here are his top tips for researchers and TV producers looking to get the best from one another:

1.) Say yes if it is a storyline close to your heart

The drama portrayals of the particular storyline HTM were interested in is a bit of a bug bear of mine so when I had the opportunity to contribute it seemed to tick a lot of boxes for me. It allowed me to hopefully play a tiny part in the creation of something accurate, fast moving and exciting — I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.

2.) Ask yourself ‘where is this approach coming from?’

[This] connection was made through the Wellcome Trust/ OKRE, which gave me the initial confidence that this [production company] is probably a credible and high standard organisation to work with. If it was a TV company I had never heard of that spammed me via email I would have almost certainly said no, I’m not interested. Partly because I just don’t have time.

3.) Have a willingness to listen and the intention to explore other ideas:

It wasn’t so much that they were asking me very specific questions that they wanted an answer to, it was that they asked open ended questions that promoted discussion. They told me elements of the story and within the discussion we looked at how credible that story was, how even a transplant professional would view it and think, ‘okay I can see how that would happen.’

4.) Hold your consultation at an early stage — if it’s too late, then it’s probably not worth doing:

I got the impression that my opinion was being sought at an early stage in the planning and so they could act on my opinion. When it might be too late to change anything, the questions might have to be very closed and specific — ‘do you wear red or green scrubs?’

If I had been approached at a late stage in production, I probably would not have engaged as one does not want to be associated with something that is not credible when it comes out. We’re all aware of our reputation and you can’t really say… ‘they only asked me about the colour of my scrubs!’

5.) Be honest and transparent:

In the first call I had with the production company, they were very clear that they weren’t promising me anything. I felt they were honest and transparent because they let me know that I might not be acknowledged in the credits or anything like that. That was never my expectation or incentive, but it may be for somebody else; so the fact that they were very transparent about this ensured that complications would be avoided in the relationship.

6.) Feedback and follow up:

Another really positive part of this interaction was that they sent a feedback email shortly after our meeting with a follow up of what may happen next. Again with no guarantees, but knowing that the ideas and thoughts that came out of our conversation had been shared with the scripting team really emphaised that they had listened. And on top of that, they were very kind to reach out and ask for my address to send a tokenn of appreciation (my children loved the chocolates). It didn’t really matter what it was, but again, I think it reinforced what a positive expeirnce this was.

"This was a really positive experience and made more so by the production company. If the opportunity arises again, I would be happy to do this again."

Professor Kourosh Saeb-Parsy

About Professor Kourosh Saeb-Parsy

Kourosh Saeb-Parsy is Professor of Transplantation at the University of Cambridge and an active clinician specialising in liver, kidney and pancreas transplant. He also runs a research group at Cambridge University with a broad range of research interests including transplantation, cancer, regenerative medicine and more. He is enthusiastically engaged in public communication and has spoken at Hay Festival.