During his four years of residency at the University of Southern California Los Angeles County General Hospital, Ryan McGarry, MD, recorded more than 500 hours of emergency department footage. Now, one year out of residency and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. McGarry is about to release the 82-minute documentary those 500 hours produced: Code Black. The documentary is named after the highest-level code in LA County’s institutional disaster plan, one which stands for a 30-hour wait in the emergency department and no beds upstairs. Code Black was the norm in the country’s busiest ED at the time of the filming, so Dr. McGarry had his hands full learning the medicine, producing the documentary, and trying to maintain a personal life.
Code Black has astonished film festival attendees, winning awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Aspen Filmfest, the Starz Denver Film Festival, and the Hamptons International Film Festival, along with a special recognition at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Emergency physicians and laypeople alike may experience the difficulties and triumphs of being an emergency medicine resident in one of the nation’s busiest EDs, illustrating how difficult and challenging this environment really is. The film gives the real-world view from the inside, hopefully capturing the hearts and minds of those who know little about the safety net of our health care system yet are always reliant on its existence. Code Black will be premiering June 20th in New York City at the IFC Center. In July and August, it will be released in 40 cities throughout the United States.
At the end of the film people give us a standing ovation. I wish I could share that with every physician, nurse, and X-ray tech who leaves a really tough shift.
–Ryan McGarry, MD, Director of CODE BLACK
Dr. McGarry, who wrote and directed Code Black, recently sat down with ACEP Now’s medical editor in chief, Kevin M. Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, to talk about the process of making the movie and what he hopes to accomplish with the film.
KK: Give us an overview of Code Black.
RM: Code Black is a feature documentary film that I directed and was released to the film festivals in 2013. The film asks the questions: If you signed up to be a doctor today, and you came in with expectations for how you wanted to practice medicine, how long would it take before the greater system and the ideas of billing, profit, regulation, documentation, and medical legal practice start to chip away at those ideals? How are you going to protect them? And, once they are threatened, how do you fight back?