Monday, 16 June 2008


Before each film and during most television series, though never for a stage play, every actor must have a medical check-up. They involve detailed insurance questionnaires and a meeting with a doctor who might examine you very thoroughly or not at all, depending on their temperament. You may find yourself in a vulnerable position, in more than one sense.
Occasionally, actors are refused medical cover on the grounds of ill health, addiction issues or mental incompetence. Once you have been identified as a possible insurance risk and a precedent has been set, you now have form. It is best to fill out the questionnaire very carefully. Does the licorice stick you tried to smoke in the playground when you were nine count as drug taking? Probably not, unless you are now ten. Was the strange and sensitive place on your top lip when you were on holiday last summer a Cold Sore? Definitely not, unless you never want to work again. Have you gained or lost a substantial amount of weight in the last few years? Of course not, you are a sensible dieter with a good nutrition plan who exercises regularly. And your urine test will be clear because you have drunk nothing but filtered water for the past week and the closest you came to smoking anything was on the barbecue. 
Actors used to be quite cavalier about these medicals as they were often casual affairs where your word was good, and a chat about Glyndebourne, or the hurricane season in Barbados was more likely than any unpleasant investigation into the state of your liver. Occasionally, doctors get ill themselves however, and their replacement may not follow the opera or holiday in the Caribbean. They might even want to examine you, despite the cheery figures you have filled in for your weight, in kilos, blood pressure, in kilopascals, and alcohol consumption, in millilitres of ethanol. This is one instance when suddenly feeling faint might not help your situation.
Aware of the somewhat arbitrary power of the examining doctor for an insurance medical, I am often intimidated on the day. It is a test, after all, and one in which a negative outcome would affect not just an immediate contract but all future employment. That such a result would possibly be due to poor health and therefore of more concern than a mere job, is not the point. Actors don't want to know if they are ill. They don't have personal disability insurance, (when you work in an industry in which a nasty scratch on your face might lose you a big contract, insurance premiums tend to be on the high side) they don't have pensions, or savings or plans. If they are sick, they go to work and the amount of adrenalin that kicks into their system when they start to say their lines, relieves them of symptoms. Receiving a diagnosis from a doctor, on a medical for insurance that will only protect the company that is employing them, is not much use. 
So, in my haste to pass the exam and my eagerness to leave the room as soon as possible, I rarely stop to ask whether the various procedures are absolutely necessary. On the last occasion, it was only after I had spent ten minutes in my underwear in a darkened room having my 'reactions' tested that I started to question the methodology. Lying on my back with one leg pressed against my chest while the doctor bore down with a fair percentage of his not inconsiderable body weight, I pondered on the wisdom of raising an objection. Before I could reach a conclusion, the medical was over and I was dressed and back in reception. All these years of avoiding the casting couch, only to succumb to the examination table. I went back to work and got into my own doctor's costume.


  1. Prior to doing the job I am doing now, I spent just over 7 years working in the private medical profession. I have no love of the insurance process as from experience from patients I have dealt with is that they want to take your money but rarely want to give it back to you.

    The things I learnt from this are that if you have a bad back you may as well have the plague as no one will cover you and most people won’t employ you, as you are classed as a liability.
    Lying on my back with one leg pressed against my chest while the doctor bore down with a fair percentage of his not inconsiderable body weight,
    (try and look like you are enjoying this as any signs of pain will be determined as signs of weakness in the lower back)

    I had spent ten minutes in my underwear in a darkened room having my 'reactions' tested that I started to question the methodology.
    (Checking the reflexes is also a way of checking for lower back problems as inflammation and swelling in the back can cause pressing against the nerves reducing your reflexes.)

    If you wondered why the insurance is so high, that’s because the impartial consultants as they are referred to in the profession, charge a fortune for each consultation they do. That’s probably where your hard earned cash goes.

    If you do have a pre-existing condition you won’t be covered for it on any renewal policies.

    The excess you have to pay these days is so high that it sometimes can cost more than the years policy.

    Having my fair share of medicals myself I do wonder the following….

    Why is it as a non drugs taker, when you are tested for drugs you are always worried that the test is going to come back positive for drugs?

    Why am I being tested for drugs, when the only person I am a danger to is myself?

  2. Well, that explains a lot. Thank goodness I have never suffered from any back pain. Ahem.