On any dramatic television series dealing with a specific profession, legal, law enforcement, medical or otherwise, input from technical experts is a must. It’s one thing to call in someone from the outside for a one-off consultation. But to really get things right, day after day, week after week, a staff technical expert is a must.
Bobbin Bergstrom has been the prime medical/technical expert on the long-running drama House M.D. since it began eight years ago, and is the only onscreen presence other than Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps, and Jesse Spencer to have that sort of longevity with the show. In my conversation with Bergstrom, she describes her essential role on House and takes us behind the scenes to see what her job as a med-tech entails.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, a suburb of LA.
Are others in your family in the medical field?
My grandmother was a licensed practical nurse in New York before she married my granddad. My sister and cousin both became RNs after I graduated from nursing school and started working.
Your knowledge of medicine has given shows like Six Feet Under, The Practice, and Felicity a sense of realism they might not otherwise have had. Please explain how you went from being a registered nurse to working as a med-tech in the entertainment business.
I went to nursing school with the intention of doing exactly this job. An old family friend introduced the idea to me and I went for it. It wasn't until about two or three years after I graduated before I went to work on my first show. I was very fortunate to know someone in the business.
You’ve been with House from the beginning of its run. Please give a quick overview of what your job as a med-tech entails.
Yes, I have been with the show since episode one (excluding the pilot which was shot in Canada). Basically my job consists of reviewing the first published draft of the scripts. Then I pose my initial questions and concerns during our first meeting as a company (this is called a concept meeting). Revisions are made and additional meetings are held, including a specific medical/technical meeting along with props, VFX, special effects, make up and art department during which I might suggest that a patient should be in ICU vs. a regular medical bed, or a six-year-old must be in a pediatric ward vs. general adult ward, which could affect the decor or even the use of different (smaller) equipment, etc.
I make corrections in the dialogue that might include using the wrong instrument in the script or stage directions, or the adjustment of symptoms to fit the illnesses. Additionally, I instruct the actors how to perform medical procedures and surgeries or how to "act" out the symptoms (i.e. a seizure). I work with the costume department regarding what attire and personal protective gear should be worn. Things like that.
What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of being part of such a long-running show?
Well, I guess the definition of success in the industry is longevity and ratings. Getting to be a part of such a popular show with such talented people is extremely rewarding.
Do the writers ever call on you with medical questions while crafting their scripts?
Yes. Usually I get involved with the script at the first published draft. Sometimes we can talk about something many times and then it just doesn't block out when we rehearse it so the writer or director or even the actor will ask for a different task or word, etc. Sometimes I provide that for them.
What is a typical workday like for you?
I’m usually on set by 7 A.M. for a private rehearsal and then throughout the day/week I will attend the meetings to prep for the next episode or do a pre-rehearsal with the cast. For example, for the OR scenes I will work with the actors first, place them and show them the physical tasks to match the dialogue and/or the surgery that is supposed to be occurring.
House went from being a show in danger of cancellation in its first season to the most watched television show in the world. What was the reaction on the set to that extraordinary piece of news?
Of course we were all elated, exhausted and happily. NOT surprised but, yes ,grateful.
In very general terms, what can viewers expect from the second half of season eight?
You’re very accessible to fans on Twitter, answering questions about House and generally being a line of communication between the show and its viewers. Why have you taken on this role?
Because it's fun and rewarding to "meet" the people who so appreciate our work, and isn't that the point of Twitter: to give us a sort of access we would otherwise not be able to have?
I would be remiss in my duties if I did not ask what it’s been like working with Hugh Laurie for the past eight years. Do you perhaps have an anecdote or two you can share about Hugh and/or the cast in general?
All I will say is that every season and every day I have seen Hugh Laurie’s talent and professionalism, and am always in awe. He IS as smart as House only he's polite and lovely to be around. All of our cast members have matured and gotten even better than when we started.
No, I don't particularly enjoy seeing myself on camera. [My being there] just facilitates the complicated medical scenes and that makes everyone's life here a little easier.
What are some of your favorite House episodes?
Well, "Wilson's Heart" and "House’s Head", of course, and the season six finale was amazing!
With such a demanding, time-consuming job, how do you make time for yourself and your family?
My son Jake is now 13. He was four going on five when I started this show. I made it a point to spend every second on the weekends only with him. I just got married last April and even though my husband Jim used to work in the biz a long time ago it's a challenge for sure.
Do you have any goals or plans for the future you’d care to share?
I always try to have goals in place, but I'll admit eight years lulls you into a false sense of security. The TV biz is ALWAYS a temp job. I'll keep you posted via Twitter what happens to me down the road, if you're still interested!
The House midseason premiere airs on Monday, January 23 on FOX.