Roshan Sethi isn’t just a doctor—he also writes for them on TV.
For the past six years, Sethi, a second-year resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), has danced between hospitals and Hollywood, writing for dramas Black Box and Code Black while completing medical school at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and first-year residency at BWH.
“When I went to medical school, I very deliberately had the intention that I was going to consult for a show someday, even though I didn’t know how,” Sethi says. “My hope had always been that I would write.”
He got his chance in 2010, during his first year of medical school. The CW had commissioned a pilot—creatively titled Harvard Medical School—that was to be set at HMS. Sethi sent writer Amy Holden Jones a Facebook message and, “amazingly,” she replied. He began consulting for the show, and, though it wasn’t picked up after the pilot aired, Sethi and Jones stayed in touch. In 2013, he was invited to consult for her new show, ABC’s (now defunct) medical soap Black Box.
Next, Sethi parlayed that experience into a writing gig for Code Black, an emergency room drama on CBS. He spent 20 weeks in Hollywood writing for the show, even though it meant taking time off from BWH. “Everyone was just really flexible about it,” Sethi says.
At Code Black, he met a writer with whom he would eventually co-write a movie about Rosalind Franklin, the woman who is believed to have actually discovered DNA. It sold at auction, and shooting is set to begin in early 2017.
Sethi is quite nonchalant about his double life, attributing his unusual path to a lifelong interest in writing, and to a screenwriting class he took as an undergraduate at Yale. “Originally I was interested in fiction, and I really wanted to become a novelist when I was in college, but I was never that good at it,” he says. “When I took screenwriting, for some reason I found that that was what I was better at.”
Of course, Sethi’s medical degree is hardly going to waste. In addition to completing his residency at BWH, Sethi uses his medical knowledge to keep scripts as by-the-book as possible.
Accuracy is taken so seriously, he says, that fellow staff doctor Ryan McGarry actually taught the actors on Code Black to put in central lines, and rigged up an elaborate system for making CPR look lifelike without injuring the actors. “If you’re not accurate, you risk being irresponsible to people who watch these shows,” Sethi says.
One thing that’s stretching the truth? The number of emergencies and high-drama cases the doctors see on a regular basis, Sethi says.
“I’ve always wanted to write a really boring medical show where it would actually be realistic—where the diagnosis is stage one hypertension,” he laughs.
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