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LA nurse to aim movie cameras at ED


Leonel Oliva, RN, recently ended a 16-hour shift at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center in Venice, Calif., and stayed up to add a dramatic patient care scene to his Hollywood-style script about the life-and-death decisions that nurses face in busy EDs.

A Cuban-American native of Miami who likes scuba diving and salsa dancing, Oliva is polishing a 95-page script for a movie he plans to produce and star in this summer. The script focuses on nurse encounters with seriously ill and dying patients. Material for his film, titled “The Shift,” comes from his experiences caring for ICU and ER patients since he graduated five years ago from the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies.

“Every single day, something happens in the ER where nurses must make split-second decisions; where a patient’s life is in their hands,” Oliva said. “It creates high-drama situations.”

Life-and-death theme

His script focuses on a fictional nurse, Kayle, who strongly supports a patient’s right to choose death with dignity but whose convictions are emotionally tested by those who show up at the busy ED. The story was inspired by Oliva’s own experience as a nursing student caring for a 54-year-old patient who was on life support and suffering from debilitating pain.

Oliva wants to show the emotional drama nurses and patients go through during an intense 12-hour ED shift. The main theme explores quality-of-life values and when a family should let go of a patient who is bedridden with terminal illness and desires to go peacefully.

Nurses who read the fast-paced script felt they were in an ED crisis mode the entire time, said Oliva, who rewrote some sections to tone it down so the film’s intensity didn’t overwhelm viewers.

Casting call

Oliva is planning casting sessions in LA and Miami and knows some paramedics and other nurses he’ll use in the film if they can carry a scene, such as responding to a Code Blue alert. For specific dramatic roles, he has acting friends in the wings.

“The goal is not being able to tell the difference between a nurse and an actor on the screen” Oliva said.

Oliva started an online fundraiser before deciding to personally invest the $50,000 he estimates is needed to shoot the film in Miami. It will be directed by a local filmmaker, Lee Cipolla, who is connected with Lionsgate, an independent studio.

Passion project

“It’s a project of passion and will be the kind of movie that not only entertains, but educates and inspires,” Oliva said. “It puts you in the place of an ER nurse and shows what it feels like to save a life by pushing on a patient’s chest to get their heart pumping.”

His initial target is to complete production and enter “The Shift” in next year’s Miami and LA film festivals with a goal of showing it at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and ultimately attracting a distributor for movie theaters across the country.


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John Leighty is a freelance writer. Send comments to or post a comment below. Visit Lionel Oliva’s website:

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