Streaming Surgeons

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Photo of David Langer and John Boockvar in scrubs.
David Langer and John Boockvar.

Before Netflix released the documentary series Lenox Hill on June 10, John Boockvar C’93 GM’04 warned his wife and kids about the potential for cringeworthy scenes.

For a year-and-a-half, he and three other doctors—including his colleague in the neurosurgery department, David Langer C’85 M’90 GM’98—were mic’d up and followed around by cameras, allowing for an intimate look into the real-life drama at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital.

“We dropped the f-bomb a bunch, my tag is sticking out the back of my lab coat every now and then, and my bald spot is apparent in every scene,” Boockvar says. “But this was worth doing because the world needed to see what life is like as a doctor, patient, nurse, nurse practitioner, PA, and what our healthcare system is like—the good, the bad, and the emotional.”

The nine-episode series, which has been critically well received, leans in on the emotional, not only in interactions with patients but in the “special relationship” that Langer and Boockvar have with each other as chair and vice chair of the hospital’s growing neurosurgery department. (Langer was recently profiled in the Gazette for saving a stranger’s life on a beach and later performing surgery on him [“Alumni Profiles,” Jan|Feb 2020], which was captured in an episode.)

The fact that half of the doctors featured in the documentary got their schooling at Penn was a happy coincidence, notes Boockvar, who wears a Penn lapel on his lab coat and recently started the Boockvar Saskin Family Lectureship at Penn Medicine. In the second episode, he even gave a shoutout to Steven Fluharty—Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Pharmacology, and Neuroscience—for sparking his interest in neuroscience when he took Fluharty’s neuropsychopharmacology class as a freshman.

Boockvar says he hadn’t been in touch with Fluharty and “didn’t know he was dean” when Fluharty reached out to him after seeing the episode. “He was just so appreciative,” Boockvar says. “As a teacher, you probably don’t always realize the impact you make—particularly on someone who’s on a Netflix show 30 years later.” —DZ

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