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Remote Area Medical: A must-see documentary

    By Torstein Lund Eik. October 30, 2013 - 12:49 pm


The first bus was early and the second one was late. Then I had a hard time finding a cab to take me to Dole Cannery. 

Oh, the joys of public transportation.

After I had decided to give it one more shot, as I figured I hadn’t missed much of the start of Remote Area Medical, I finally found a cab. He rushed me over to Dole Cannery, and I flashed my ticket and made my way into the theatre.

I am at a loss for words on how glad I am that I decided to give it one last go.

With the government shutdown that started over Obamacare, this film is maybe one of the most relevant.

Remote Area Medical is a documentary made about the volunteer corps with the same name. The film uses a very observational approach, and it does it very well.

What originally started as an organization set on helping people in developing countries is now running mobile clinics in several different states. These clinics are open to everyone, and features dentists, doctors, opticians and a truckload of volunteers.

In this documentary, the observed clinic is set in rural Tennessee – and it’s home is the Bristol Motor Speedway, also known as “The Collosseum.”


There might be miles between doctors, and gas prices would prohibit many from driving long distances — not to mention work or other commitments.

In this rural area of Tennessee, the jobs are scarce and hard to come by. Countless people are without proper health insurance. Some people have gone their entire lives without seeing a doctor. For example a 61 year-old man whose blood pressure is alarmingly high hasn’t seen a doctor since he was a teenager.

When the RAM clinic rolls into the raceway it sets up base for a weekend. Doctors, dentists, and nurses come from all over.
None are paid for spending their weekend working at this clinic.

A mind-boggling amount of people showed up and parked their cars outside the NASCAR racetrack. There they are met by RAM-staffers who hand out 500 pink tickets during the first day.

The desperation to have access to medical care is clear from the very start. Frustrated people, who spent hours driving to Bristol and even more hours waiting in their car, are not able to get a ticket for the first day of the clinic. A group decides to go talk to the ones in charge and see if they can get a ticket that allows them to go home and take care of their children, and still keep their spot for tomorrow.

This works out in the end, and we see them the other day getting in to the clinic.


During the film, we meet several people, all with different backgrounds and conditions. What they all have in common is their need of medical attention and lack of insurance.

One patient, who never was properly introduced, was a middle-aged woman who suffered from very bad teeth. Her teeth actually looked like they belonged to someone who had never brushed them before.
No one would hire her, because of her dental appearances.
Several of her teeth were broken in half, causing her severe pain when eating.

However, her teeth were not the only thing causing her troubles. Actually going to the clinic and receiving help from someone else, was not easy for this woman.

She tells us that she was born and raised on a farm and was taught to help herself. Going to a place like this was obviously an issue for her.

Her hope was to get full dentures, so that she could once again feel confident with her own appearance and be the out-going person she used to be.

Unfortunately, they were not able to get her full dentures. She had her broken teeth removed.

If you think teeth being pulled is something you’d rather not see, you’d do well to close your eyes for this segment of the movie.

The interaction between humans is what makes this documentary reach the level of quality I found it to be. They follow several patients around during their stay at the clinic, and are shown talking to the volunteers and personnel who treat them with the respect.

You are shown how a woman, who was the first one in line when they had to close one day, is recognized by some of the personnel as their “yesterday lady” and taken to the front of the line right away again.
When this woman is trying on glasses later, you see one of the volunteers who says, “You are not leaving with glasses that don’t look good on you!”

The movie has these longer interview segments with some of the patients, but it is the small moments like these that, for me, makes the documentary shine.

This movie showed me how truly lucky I am to have been born in Norway, where healthcare is free and available to everyone.

Medical care isn’t available to you because of your insurance? There is no such thing where I come from.
After seeing this, I am glad to be paying taxes and taking part in ensuring that I, or anyone else in Norway, do not have to suffer through these kinds of hardships.

At the same time it is inspiring to see all these volunteers, along with the people who do this all year round, and all over the country.

If you are going to see any documentary about healthcare, or even human interaction and compassion, Remote Area Medical should be on your list.


Photos: Remote Area Medical on Facebook.