Doctors featured by cable series

Soldotna women take part in fall Lifetime program

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2001

Media attention seems to focus on urban hospitals and life or death situations, but Lifetime Network in cooperation with True Entertain-ment in New York has decided to shine a light on several physicians from Soldotna.

A video journalist spent one week at the beginning of June, capturing the lives and practices of three Kenai Peninsula women -- Dr. Katy Sheridan, Dr. Kristen Mitchell and medical student Heidi Lowrey -- for a Lifetime series set to air in the fall.

True Entertainment, creators of "Trauma: Life in the ER," decided the series needed a look at rural women doctors to contrast with the urban physicians, said Paul Mailman, the free-lance video journalist who filmed the women. When the series runs, it will have the capability to reach more than 1 million viewers.

The series is focusing on women doctors in hospitals from three urban areas: Philadelphia, Chicago and Seattle. It was the women's connection with the medical school at the University of Washington in Seattle that brought Mailman to Soldotna.

Mitchell and Sheridan are affiliated with the university's WRITE (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho Rural Integrated Training Experience) program that allows medical students in their third year to work in a rural community for six months. Lowrey is the second student to work on the peninsula through the program.

"She was the real link that brought them here," said Mitchell, of Peninsula Internal Medicine.

During his visit, Mailman focused on aspects of the women's lives beyond the office, as well as capturing their daily practices. He spent the majority of his time shadowing Sheridan and Lowrey because Mitchell was out-of-state due to a family emergency.

The doctors profiled in the larger cities were predominantly specialists, and it was unusually different to film Sheridan, Mailman said. In one sense it was easier because she treats the whole patient, but it also was more difficult because unlike with other specialists, there were no critical cases with a set up, climax and ending, he said.

"It is amazing, the bond she has with her patients," he said.

One scene he caught on tape was an office visit between Sheridan and three generations of patients -- grandparents, their daughter and granddaughter.

In addition to office visits with Sheridan at her practice at the Peninsula Medical Center, Mailman followed her on a home visit and to Central Peninsula General Hospital in the middle of the night, where he filmed her as she delivered a baby.

Sheridan is a family practitioner who also does obstetrics. She generally performs 30 to 40 deliveries a year. Mailman timed his visit so it was at the same time five of Sheridan's patients were due.

"I think that it was only too bad that he was here for such a short time," Lowrey said. "When we were on call it was a really slow call. He couldn't really capture the critical work that she does, and she can do."

Sheridan had to receive permission from her patients for Mailman to film their visits, some declined, but for the most part, many were happy to oblige, Sheridan said.

"I just did my totally normal thing. I have to focus on what I am dealing with," she said. "I tried to disregard the presence of the camera. I hope it didn't disturb (patients) too much."

Lowrey agreed the filming was slightly distracting.

"The way they do the filming, he moved around a lot. It almost seemed like he was crawling over us. I think that the patients did a really good job of ignoring the camera," Lowrey said. "He tried to be as unobtrusively as possible."

Mailman also taped Sheridan as she taught a neonatal class. However, he went beyond her role as a doctor and filmed her everyday routine.

He went along when she walked in the Relay for Life, and Sheridan took him out to her family homestead in Kasilof. Sheridan, her family and Lowrey took Mailman to Clam Gulch for the truly Alaska experience of digging for clams. While he was too busy manning the camera to actually dig for clams, Sheridan's family allowed him the pleasure of cleaning and eating them.

"I have never seen them that big," he said.

In regards to his experience in Alaska, he said, "I totally enjoyed it. I was taken aback by the way everyone takes to you, everybody knows everybody. Alaska is phenomenally gorgeous."

Although Mailman tried to catch Alaska on film, he was here to feature Sheridan and Lowrey. At the end of the week, Mailman had one-on-one interviews with Sheridan and Lowrey.

"The interview was the hardest part," Lowrey said. "He asked me to talk about things we did over the week."

However, more than one-third of his time was spent with them in the office.

"We tried to have him participate as much as possible in the way we normally do things," Lowrey said.

For the most part, the scenes were live. Occasionally, they had to repeat something or walk through a door more than once, said Sheridan.

"I am a good doctor, not a good actress," she said.



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