The Waiting Room

The Waiting Room, directed by Peter Nicks is an interesting documentary that gives insight into what a typical day is like at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California.

The film was the recipient of Best Documentary of 2012 by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and was also featured in many other festivals.


In terms of quality, it has the look of a regular feature film; clear and well shot, with good sound quality and lighting – yet gives the viewer the feeling that they are a fly on the wall in rather intimate scenes.

Nicks made some interesting choices such as having no narration to guide the film or formally show interviews he had with patients. Instead there was only voice over from the characters, who provided further context about their situations.

The documentary showed a variety of different experiences, primarily what went on in the waiting room of the hospital, and focused in on about five main people and their stories.

For a documentary, I was surprised at how natural everyone was in front of the camera, especially for the sensitive and intimate nature of most of the scenes. They all seemed blissfully unaware of its presence which was good, but occasionally made me question how genuine everyone was. (i.e. the doctor on the phone, “I will not let this man slip through the cracks!” Okay there, McDreamy.)

I found every story to be quite different, and I could relate and sympathize with everyone; from the frustrated couple who needed surgery and didn’t have insurance, to the man who had to continue laying carpet to support himself and his daughter even though he had painful bone spurs.

There were a lot of good aspects to the film, overall I’d say it was very well done and despite a few instances of blurred rack focuses and irrelevant clips, it was an enthralling documentary. It also managed to be feel-good and depressing at the same time by capturing unfortunate circumstances, yet showing good attitudes and how people genuinely care about helping one another.

In terms of educating viewers about the American healthcare system, it seemed to display its well-known flaws of: long wait times, pricy bills, and shortage of hospital beds.

The film contained only one horrific instance, where they tried to save a 15-year-old boy but he ended up dying on the table despite doctors best efforts.  Besides this, I think the film provided a good account of what any hospital is like.  I don’t think it was too shocking or contained anything I didn’t already know.  If anything, everyone was seen – the doctors did their best with good intentions, and those waiting were relatively grateful when they did get in. But yes, I understood the point that the hospital has a lot of room for improvement.

The American healthcare system gets a bad rap, deservedly. If you have money, you will get seen. Having to pay for your basic right to healthcare is an absurd concept that I will never understand. As a Canadian, I will admit my ignorance and admit that I don’t know much about the American system. The main thing I know is that  it’s very pricy – and even read that it can cost up to $10 000 to have a baby if someone is uninsured. Wow.

With regard to accessibility, Wikipedia explains:

“In both Canada and the United States, access to health care can be a problem. Studies suggest that 40% of U.S. citizens do not have adequate health insurance, if any at all. In Canada, however, as many as 5% of Canadian citizens have not been able to find a regular doctor, with a further 9% having never looked for one. Yet, even if some cannot find a family doctor, every Canadian citizen is covered by the national health care system. The U.S. data is evidenced in a 2007 Consumer Reports study on the U.S. health care system which showed that the underinsured account for 24% of the U.S. population and live with skeletal health insurance that barely covers their medical needs and leaves them unprepared to pay for major medical expenses.”

Here in Canada we all continually count our blessings that we have a better system than the US, but we do have fewer doctors per capita than they do, along with similar problems with long wait times and bed shortages.

I can’t complain, I’ve never had a bad experience with my medical care-  often walk ins can be a pain and I have been misdiagnosed before, but I do feel confident that I can get adequate help if I ever need it.

I urge everyone to see The Waiting Room as it encourages a dialogue about the current health care state in North America, and reminds us that there is always room for improvement. We could easily be in a waiting room tomorrow, you never know..

Here is the trailer for anyone who is interested:

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