Friends of San Antonio surgical resident Michael Metzner, MD, shouldn’t be surprised if they recognize some of the plotlines in the current season of ABC-TV’s long-running, medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.
And his close friends shouldn’t have been at all surprised that Dr. Metzner landed a paying gig in Hollywood as the show’s medical communications fellow. It’s the latest culmination in a life of integrating science and the arts.
Like in high school, where he did neurodegenerative research at the Scripps Research Institute and won photographer of the year in a national fine art competition. Or in college, where he double majored in biological chemistry and visual arts. Or his long-term career goal to become a pediatric craniofacial surgeon.
“I was just baffled by the fact that I could truly be an artist using human tissue as a medium,” Dr. Metzner said. “If you can do that, anticipating all the physiological changes of human tissue, I believe it can be one of the most challenging and rewarding art forms possible.”
Dr. Metzner’s program coordinator told him about the Grey’s Anatomy opportunity toward the end of the second year of his general surgery residency at UT Health San Antonio Long School of Medicine. When he accepted the show’s offer, he had to delay his planned two-year, microsurgery research stint with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research.
Two months into it, Dr. Metzner says this unexpected career detour “has been amazing. Better than I could have ever imagined.”
Houston native Zoanne Clack, MD, Grey’s Anatomy executive producer, says the fellows help with all medical aspects of the show.
“They participate in the writers’ room, giving personal experiences and further detailed information on medical topics that come up,” Dr. Clack explained. “Additionally, they go over outlines and scripts to ensure that the flow of the medical steps are correct and help to add in medical language so that our actors sound like doctors.”
Dr. Metzner is loving the experience. “This opportunity has brought my strengths of the arts and science together in a way that has stimulated both my left and right brain in ways I never thought possible,” he said.
Like many of the show’s millions of fans, Dr. Metzner watched Grey’s Anatomy “religiously” when he was in high school. The rigors of college, medical school, and residency cut into his screen time, but not his love of the show. His favorite episode? When at the end of Season 11 Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd died, a trauma victim whose care went awry.
“He was in a car accident and he was in a coma, but could hear everything that was going on, so he narrated his own death,” Dr. Metzner said. “Seeing how they didn’t follow the [trauma] protocol, and that’s what ultimately led him to pass away, and him knowing that was going to happen was a very impactful thing to watch as a surgical resident.”
As a resident, Dr. Metzner doesn’t have the free time anymore to compose much music or to fly to France and shoot fashion photography with design icons like Pierre Cardin, Cameron Silver, and Chris Benz. But he’s used to squeezing both of his passions into a very busy life.
“When I was an undergrad, I was killing myself doing a double major,” he said. “I had to do two separate theses. One was on the perceptions of beauty, a photographic journey. I went from the time of Socrates to today, to define what beauty was. And the other was the neuroprotective effects of [the gastric hormone] ghrelin.”
When he returns to San Antonio in the spring, Dr. Metzner will look for those moments when he can flee the OR or the ED or the research lab, and escape to his cameras or his piano.
“There are times in our life where we have to redirect our time in order to prioritize, like of course in residency,” he said. “I find that when I do have time, I use the arts to de-stress.”