New Amsterdam’s Dr. Eric Manheimer is a Renaissance Man With Great Vision For Humanity
Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Eric Manheimer has provided much more than top-notch medical care by giving his patients large doses of compassion.
Now, Dr. Manheimer, a noted physician, author, and family man, is witnessing the years of dedication come to fruition with the season debut of New Amsterdam, the riveting new television drama inspired by his years of hard work and dedication.
The new drama is making its series debut on NBC on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 10 p.m. [ET] right after the season premiere of This Is Us. The show goes beyond the typical TV hospital drama and brings a great humanity to these compelling ripped-from-the-headlines stories.
New Amsterdam was inspired by Dr. Manheimer’s bestselling memoir, Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital, and his 15 years as medical director at this unique hospital; the oldest public hospital in America.
The collaboration between leading man Ryan Eggold, who plays Dr. Max Goodwin, and Dr. Manheimer, the show’s medical consultant, writer, and producer, has resulted in ground-breaking and memorable stories that will make TV viewers yearn to come back to the show each week.
The following is an exclusive interview with Dr. Manheimer on his new medical drama, New Amsterdam, his illustrious career, close family bonds, and life lessons.
How does this go from being your life’s work, a book and then a TV show? And what is that like for you to see all the attention on your career?
Dr. Eric Manheimer: For the life’s work part, I’ve been a physician for more than 35 years. I started keeping notes on my daily experiences in 1997 when I came to New York City, after first working in New England. I had 150 notebooks filled with experiences, patient’s issues, political issues that were going on, what was happening nationally and internationally.
Please tell me more.
EM: When I really started to consider all of this, I needed to put these down in story form because basically the narrative of the patients’ story to me is the most interesting thing. So, I picked 12 patients that represented some of the most dynamic social issues that were going on nationally and internationally, like immigration now which is a huge issue.
Then what happened?
EM: So, I took a patient, who had a very interesting, fascinating medical trajectory, and diagnosis and treatment, and then embedded this history and context in that story, which is all real. I went to all the different places where the patients were from, whether they were from Africa, whether they were from Latin America, throughout the United States and followed them over many years, and then I wrote the book. That’s how it got started.
Were you thinking that these notes could one day be the basis for a TV show?
EM: No, I never thought about a TV show. It didn’t occur to me in my slightest imagination. My wife’s in academics. She’s written about 20 different books. I have a lot of friends who have written a lot of books. But getting into another medium, it never occurred to me. I’m writing another book. So, I’m just doing what I can do. I was thrilled when it got picked up by NBC. It’s been a really wonderful ride.
Tell me what it’s like to be on the set.
EM: I’m on this set. I’m a producer. I’m a medical consultant. I’m involved with scripts for about four hours a day. So, the writer’s group is in L.A. I was out there for a while but now we’re basically back and forth between L.A. and where it is filming in New York.
Do you feel like you’re seeing patients and being on the set in the real hospital? Does it feel real to you?
EM: Yes. We’re filming a lot of it in Central Brooklyn, at Kings County Hospital where NBC has taken over a couple of floors of one of the older buildings. We’re filming at the Bellevue Hospital and we’re filming some sets in Westchester. It’s authentic. It feels really real. NBC has spared nothing in trying to make it authentic as possible. They have fabulous producers. They have the fabulous crew. The leadership really understands the significance of what this is right now in this country. So, I think there’s been every attempt to make it as real as appropriate for today. The business of healthcare is not business. It’s health.
How much of your time are you on the set? Are you still a practicing physician?
EM: I am not doing doctor work anymore. I was a practicing physician close to 40 years. A couple of years ago I had tried to put in less time, while still practicing, but it takes more and more time, so you can’t just shut down. So I decided to stop doing clinical work.
Talk about the importance of compassion and what many of us see as a lack of it in the current health care system.
EM: To have the content knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient for being a fine doctor. Plenty of people can know all the answers to the questions, but that doesn’t mean you can take care of patients. Empathy and emotions relate to all medical issues, whether they are physical, psychiatric, or life distresses. To have empathy and relate to people emotionally is a critical feature of being a good doctor.
Please tell me more.
EM: Part of the thing that has happened in modern medicine is that doctors are having a time crunch since they are being pushed to be more productivity. That doesn’t allow enough time to spend with patients. When I started in 1980 we had a good amount of time to spend with patients and to get to know them. Over the years it has eroded more and more. Now, they have 10 or 12 or 15 minutes with patients. Some doctors may not have the empathy they need, while others have it, but the system doesn’t give enough time for it to be expressed.
Who seen the New Amsterdam pilot episode and what was their reaction?
EM: Watching the show before it airs has been a tremendous amount of fun. I have seen it with my family and friends have come over to watch it. My wife is in Mexico and we have taken it to friends and family in Mexico City, and they really enjoyed it. Seeing this book that I wrote a few years ago come to life on a TV screen is such a thrill. Everyone is excited and happy for me.
This is your baby. So, what is it like to see all of the billboards, full-page magazine and TV ads for the show?
EM: This gets down to an important issue. I chose NBC to be the network to tell my story because they have an understanding of the material. NBC got the idea that this would be a different type of medical show. I was offered an opportunity to be a producer and writer. I didn’t walk away and just turn on the TV. They had a clear idea of the possibility of the book and so they hired outstanding showrunners and writers moving the show. I live in Manhattan and I constantly see buses go by with big ads, and friends send me magazine ads and photos. That energy goes into the marketing, and everything else involved in the show, is very important to me and how NBC has treated the show all along the way.
How close are you and Ryan Eggold?
EM: Quite close. Fortunately, Ryan lives near me in New York City. The show itself offers many opportunities for us to talk, share a meal and other meetings. My wife and Ryan have become friends as well and he has come to dinner.
What is Ryan like?
EM: He is a lovely guy. We clearly like each other and like to talk about politics and mutual interests. Ryan has gotten to ask me questions about my career, life, medicine, running operations at Bellevue, basically my varied and interesting career. He has been able to tap into that for the show and as an actor, I believe it helps him to get into the skin of the character.
What are a few things you are most proud of during your long and prestigious career?
EM: Early in my career took time off from working in the United States and spent a year in Haiti at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer. It was at an old United Fruit Plantation that was closed. They bought it and build a hospital and it became a well-known place around the world. It was a remarkable experience to take care of patients with advanced exotic diseases in impoverished circumstances. I believe it was a very important part of my maturing as an adult and as a physician. The next year I went to work in Pakistan in the Northwest Provence and had a remarkable experience in the refugee camps there. Personally, it helped me grow by practicing medicine and being inside these cultures, I could get a sense of what I could and couldn’t do medically; I came back a changed man.
You speak with such love and pride for your wife and her accomplishments.
EM: Absolutely, my wife is a Latin professor at New York University and we have traveled throughout South America. I have had the tremendous opportunity to explore to health and medicine in other cultures. We have done a lot of work in human rights, migration issues, and the political environment. I have many friends and colleagues all over and they have been the key to my growth as a human being.
Tell me about your family.
EM: We have two grown children: a daughter in California, who has two daughters, and a son with two children, a son, and a daughter. We have a house in Mexico and we are getting ready for a big gathering. We will have all of the generations and many friends. It will be one big party.
Since the show has many important messages about caring, empathy, and compassion, what are the life lessons you have shared with your family?
EM: My philosophy for my children and grandchildren is that the most important thing you can do is to be connected to other people, care about the people you are close to, and always look after them. Also, it is important to always be aware of the present. This will enrich your own life beyond anything else. Those long-time friendships that sustain and nurture us have been the richness to our lives, and I believe we have transmitted this to our children and grandchildren. No one is exempt from trials and tribulations, but we can all find the strength to be better, strong and more caring. In my view, this is the key to success!
For more information on New Amsterdam: Click Here
To order the book Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital: Click Here