An emergency room physician’s imprint on ER
Armand Dorian is a TV medical advisor and a pioneering advocate of better healthcare
Published: Saturday October 11, 2008
Glendale, Calif. - Doctor Armand Dorian is the man who helps John Stamos act like a real physician on ER. But being a medical technical advisor is only one of the many hats Dorian wears. He works full-time as an emergency-room physician. He has appeared in front of the camera on cable and broadcast television shows, and he has been the lead singer of a band. He is promoting cutting-edge healthcare technologies. He is developing his own television pilot, and he has even created his own energy drink.
"I'm happiest when I'm busy," Dorian said. "I love getting my hands dirty and doing stuff. If I'm sitting at the beach just getting a tan - that is my biggest nightmare. I would love to be on that beach doing things, but I would not want to just sit there."
Dorian juggles so many responsibilities partly because he is interested in using the media to help improve people's health. That is why he agreed to appear on the television program Extra, as one of the show's "Life Changers." Dorian spoke to the Armenian Reporter in the Verdugo Hills Hospital ER, where he is one of the directors of the department.
"Over here on a good day," Dorian said, "I'll see 50 patients. But on a good show, you can help millions."
On the show, viewers ask health questions that the doctors answer, helping people determine whether their symptoms require a visit to a doctor or hospital.
Stories from the emergency room
Even though Dorian says he has never sought the spotlight, his involvement in entertainment began at a very young age. "I was always the kid picked by the teacher to do the ardasanutyun - the poem, the theater production, etcetera." But Dorian didn't pursue a career in entertainment.
After he had begun working as a doctor, the spotlight found him. He received numerous emails from a television show asking for stories of his experiences in the ER. But Dorian thought they were just junk mail and didn't respond. It wasn't until he went through one of his worst days as a physician that he finally responded.
"I said, ‘You want a story? I'll give you a story,'" Dorian said. He sent an email describing his treatment of a teenage girl who had arrived in the ER with what was reported to be bad diarrhea. It turned out that the girl had secretly given birth in her family's bathroom, cut the umbilical cord, and left the baby to die. The newborn was discovered only after the girl had been picked up by the paramedics. Despite Dorian's best efforts, the baby could not be resuscitated.
Although the producers of Untold Stories of the ER considered that event too dark for the program, it was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration. Dorian appeared on eight episodes of the program from 2005 to 2006, playing himself in reenactments of his own on-the-job experiences.
Untold Stories wasn't Dorian's first time in front of the camera. His father, Ashot Dorian, is an architect who used to have a two-hour public-access show called Hye-Air. Broadcast around the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Hye-Air provided the diaspora with glimpses into the social, cultural, and political life of Soviet Armenia.
"He's like a Renaissance kind of guy," Dorian said of his father. "You know, architect, artist... he sings; he did this show for fun for ten years." Dorian spent a lot of time with his father on the set. "So I've been on camera a lot. I wasn't shy."
The producers of Untold Stories eventually asked Dorian to appear on a spin-off, Diagnosis X, but Dorian rejected the offer. He wanted something new and challenging. So he suggested that he work for the producers as a medical technical advisor. That job, and the connections he made in the industry - most notably with Grey's Anatomy and Nip/Tuck producer Linda Klein - led to work on three episodes of Grey's Anatomy in 2007 as a medical technical advisor, which then led to ER.
But what does a medical technical advisor do?
"It varies," Dorian said. "For Diagnosis X, I would read all the scripts, make sure they all made sense medically. And then, when they're doing the actual shooting, I'll be there to make sure that everything is being pronounced properly, the actors are acting as they would in a hospital."
Grey's Anatomy was less involved. Dorian didn't work on the script. Mostly he worked on set, making sure the actors performed procedures correctly and used the right terminology.
"Now, when it comes to ER, it's a completely different ball of wax," Dorian said. "It's very, very detail-oriented and very intense. We go through the entire script, and we break it down for makeup, for props, for background, for the atmosphere, make sure everything is in tune."
After content meetings with the director, the writer, the prop master, makeup, and wardrobe, the medical technical advisors will write notes for the episode.
"It's usually a ten-page breakdown of every scene," Dorian said of the notes. "Everything that we need: from an IV bag to a type of gauze to an antibiotic to certain tools that are needed to intubate or do a medical procedure."
That's just the beginning. Next, the medical technical advisors will write the actors' blocking.
"It's almost like [being] a director at that point," Dorian said. "You start setting up where people are going to be, what they're going to do, and where they're going to move to."
"When you watch a trauma scene on ER, you'll see a ton of movement," Dorian continued. "Everything is specific. The thing that they're passing in the back is related to the medical thing that's happening to that patient. This is their real claim to fame. ER is very, very technically savvy."
Dorian will then work one-on-one with the actors, going through all the motions with the props - a process known as teching. Dorian said, "Okay, so John Stamos is now intubating the patient and then he's walking over, grabbing the tube, sticking it here. Then you're going to walk over, put the stethoscope in your ear, listen like this, then you're going to push on the belly, then you're going to the ultrasound machine and do this."