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Script doctor takes up residence

November 06, 2005|Susan King

David Foster

Story editor and medical consultant on Fox's medical series "House"

Consultants on call: "There are three of us. I work with the writers and help them formulate the medical stories. The writers ... work very hard, and they do a lot of great research, but a lot of times -- because the medical thinking is sort of a world unto itself -- they come and say, 'If someone came in with these symptoms, what might you as a doctor be thinking of?' Or the reverse of that, 'Let's say I would like Cameron [Jennifer Morrison] and Foreman [Omar Epps] to disagree over the treatment of a patient. What types of things might set sort of a rubric?'

"I do go on set, but there is an on-set [doctor] who does the on-set technical advising; I help the cast and the crew understand the medical story and more importantly how the medical story brings the characters into conflict with each other.

"All of our actors are very concerned that they look and sound like medical professionals, and I help them get that look and feel right and help them understand sort of what is behind what they are saying -- and help them with the pronunciation of the technical words."

Ripped from the journals: "I am on the writing staff, so I write scripts during the year myself, and also I bring things in to the writers -- new technologies, interesting new procedures, diseases that are popping up. There are all sorts of things post-Katrina, so these are the kinds of things that I might bring to the writers' attention to see if it fits in with something they are thinking of.

"I wrote 1 1/2 scripts last year and have written one this year and am starting on my second. What I bring to the staff that is unique is my medical background."

The feedback loop: "I hear from doctors with a range of opinions. I hear from some that 'I work with this disease, and I think it would be a great show for "House" to do.' I hear from some, in fact some of my very good friends, that say actually 'House' is rejuvenating for them because many people got into medicine because they wanted to really get in and solve people's problems. And what 'House' does is that he really gets in and focuses on one case, really gets involved in that case. A lot of doctors feel themselves pulled a hundred different ways by administrative problems. They don't feel like they can get involved with one patient like Dr. House does, so it helps them rekindle why they went into medicine to begin with."

Physician as storyteller: "I got into medicine because I liked telling stories. And I like listening to patients telling their stories. One of the great benefits of being a physician is to sit and listen to people talk about their lives and interact with them over very meaningful substance. I was an internist, and I practiced in Boston for six years doing inner-city medicine working with HIV, hepatitis C and particularly addictions."

Going Hollywood: "For the past seven or eight years, I have been going back and forth from Los Angeles and Boston doing some work with television. Television found me because of my best friend from medical school, Neal Baer, who is the executive producer for 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' now.

"He started working on 'ER' while we were medical students. He was a writer in L.A. before medical school and left that to become a doctor.

"The first show I had a consulting credit on was a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie called 'Only Love,' and I've done a number of things since then, including 'Gideon's Crossing.'

"I did quite a bit of work on 'Law & Order: SVU' with Neal, and then, thankfully, [executive producers] David Shore and Katie Jacobs and Paul Attanasio gave me the opportunity to be a writer full time on "House." I was hired as a consultant with a guarantee of a freelance script. I took the leap of faith that it would work out and moved from Boston to L.A. So far so good, although one never knows."

Hanging up the stethoscope: "I miss my patients, and I do miss practicing medicine.

"I love writing and being on the show, but that's not to say that practicing medicine didn't have its joys. The fortunate thing about writing on this show is that we have the opportunity to comment on and influence the public opinion about health issues through the story lines that we tell on the show. So I am still involved in the medical world."

Age: 40

Resides: Manhattan Beach

Union or guild: Writers Guild of America

Salary: "I am doing better now [than when I was a doctor]. I don't have extravagant needs. I chose to work with poor people in my medical world -- I didn't choose a high-money field."

Yes, there's a doctor in the house: "We had a piece of equipment tipped over on one of the extras and fortunately it wasn't serious, but it was one of those things where I come running to offer what help I can. I don't have a medical bag, but the beauty of shooting on a medical set is that everything is right there."

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