I am not really a fan of reality TV and I don’t even have cable. But with the growing number of shows on TV with physicians lining the cast, it has become undeniable that reality TV is here to stay. Love it or leave it, the reach and span of reality shows has become a part of the norm. That being said, I have yet to see a reality show where physicians are able to articulate their platform without being buried in a tide of drama, cat fights and gossip harangues. The ladies of Married to Medicine Atlanta tried to raise the bar but viewers watched it quickly degenerate as Mariah and Toya got into the very first fight of the season. That being said there are a few cast members with a good head on their shoulders namely Dr. Heavenly and Dr. Jackie. We have watched them manage to keep a civil conversation and even manage to sneak in a few scenes addressing important topics such as breast cancer, family balance, business and wealth management. But at the end of the day, the truth of the matter is, the audience drawn to these shows have a single-minded focus and that is drama, drama and more drama. If you can’t deliver loads of drama you will be cut from the cast. It’s very simple, drama sells and the audience is buying it in loads.
I approached my interview with Dr. Sato with mixed feelings, worried I was going to get either a pushy, grotesque reality show personage; the Nene Leakes type or an over scripted boring and dry Russell Wilson type of performance. I was pleasantly surprised to engage with a spunky, articulate, well-read but culturally relevant woman. When asked to talk about her upbringing, you can hear the warmth in her voice as she describes her middle-class upbringing in Missouri. Brought up by two working class parents she remembers having to work hard to earn her spot in medicine. Given that both of her parents were wrestlers, I quickly asked if we were going to get a challenge sent out to Rhonda Rousey anytime soon. She laughing said, “I am just not big or strong enough to be a fighter”. Being of Italian and Japanese descent she recounts that while growing up she tried to identify with both her Italian and Japanese heritage but reports currently identifying with her Asian heritage.
I asked about her interest in Medicine and Surgery specifically plastic surgery, and her passion for helping people feel their best by looking their best was clearly evident. When asked what her favorite plastic surgery procedure was, she laughingly replied “the Brazilian butt lift”. I jokingly remarked that in case I was ever in need of one I would be sure to consult her.
Dr. Sato is recently married and is in the process of starting a family or at least trying to. She met her husband as a surgery fellow while he was a third-year medical student on her service. In a field, such as Medicine where hierarchy is integral to the culture specifically in the surgical specialties it is truly remarkable. Contrary to popular belief, romances in the medical setting are rare and specifically romances involving female physicians are even more scarce. This does not mean that people do not engage in sexual relationships but the idea of finding a soul mate or a partner in the medical setting is rare. She fondly recounts the way they met and reports being content as she adjusts into her new role as a wife. Her husband ultimately decided to choose surgery as a specialty choice and he is currently completing his training in Houston. She is learning about the power of compromise as she embraces her new faith of Christianity which was her husband’s faith prior to marriage. Her favorite thing about her husband which she appreciates more now than when she first got married is his slow deliberate way of thinking and articulating his thoughts. She reports initially finding that frustrating but remarks that she has now grown to appreciate his process.
I promptly asked her what on earth made her decide to join a reality TV show? She reports first hearing about the show while in her last year of fellowship but did not join the cast until she had been in practice for a few months. It is important to note that while the show was being filmed she was in the process of building up her practice which necessitates grueling hours and what seems like endless nights of call. According to Dr. Sato, the show was pitched as “the medical show” which would focus on showcasing the medicine and downplaying the drama and nonsense. The focus of the show would be to highlight the sacrifices that women who decide to pursue a career in medicine have to make. Having just finished 8 years of postgraduate training after 4 years medical school, it seemed like to perfect time to address the issue. The average resident in training makes about $50,000 -$60,000 a year while in training while working anywhere between 60-100 hours a week. On average that equals less than minimum wage in most major US cities. Yes, doctors make good money once they get out of school but they also incur a lot of debt. Medical training has been called “the million-dollar mistake” by some.
Most women who decide to pursue careers in Medicine especially surgical careers often have to sacrifice by delaying marriage, kids and other relationships. Although being single in your 20’s may sound like fun, an overworked, over 35 female physicians isn’t exactly sell like hot cakes. We talked about the idea of trying to have children over the age of 35 which is a separate matter which goes beyond the scope of this article. She did remark that she wished she had the foresight to have an egg retrieval procedure (which is commonly known as freezing one’s eggs) in her twenties as a medical student.
I expressed some skepticism about being able to use the Married to Medicine platform to engage viewers without enough drama. Dr. Sato, however indicated that she remained optimistic about being able to use that platform to educate the masses regarding the difficulties and sacrifice it takes to pursue a career in Medicine specifically as a woman. As it stands, at the time of our interview, she was being villainized by the audience for being an elitist and has been accused of looking down on the other non-MD members of her cast. When asked if any friendship had blossomed during the season, she indicated that they hadn’t but rather she did maintain the friendship she had with Dr. Patel prior to joining the cast.
It remains to be seen whether or not Dr. Sato will be successful in using the Bravo platform to educate, discuss and engage the public in any subjects of substance. While it has never been done, one remains hopeful that maybe this cast of physicians will be able to use their platform appropriately to address health issues. She specifically reports not having any aspirations to be the next Dr. Oz but she did express some hope that the show will help grow her business while educating the public on the sacrifice, discipline and hard work it takes to become a physician. She also plans to use her platform to address issues pertinent to professional women while also tackling issues pertinent to the medical community. She did express some regret that the public misinterpreted her focus on work and the sacrifices she had to make which she believed was the intent of the show for an over-inflated sense of importance. She bemoaned the fact that she was labeled a “mean girl” I laughingly told her to relax and enjoy her new status since that was a vast upgrade from the “nerdy girl” which I am sure was the label she bore growing up. She laughed heartily at my response and stated she had resolved to not get too bothered by public opinion as long as she was okay on the home front.
As she adjusts to her new role, I hope she finds some balance given she is making so many transitions in a short time: wife, private practice, reality star and potentially a mother.
In my opinion, she seems a little unprepared for the level of stardom which the show will propel her to but maybe that’s a good thing. My guess is, as the show progresses the public will fall in love with Dr. Sato’s quick wit, fun personality andlevel-headedd approach to life. I am sure Erica will become a fan favorite in a few seasons if she sticks it out because as the Japanese say she is truly “kawaii” which is a term for darling or endearing. The one thing she can rely on is the fact that the reality TV watching audience has a predictably short attention span. I am sure in a few weeks Kanye West will go on a rant and everyone will forget the “mean girls” of the Married to Medicine Houston crew.