I want to use a hospital (specifically, Walter Reed in Bethesda) as a setting. How best do authors research the daily routine? Is there someone I can reach out to such as a public relations person or staff who take questions from writers? I have characters that are briefly there and move on so there is not anything derogatory or would make a hospital look bad.


I had to do a similar thing at a veterinary surgery. I contacted one of the vets there, explained what I needed and she kindly blocked out an appointment for me.

The condition that put your character/s in hospital will determine the ward they are on. So, if it's neurology for example, I would contact the main line for that department and ask who the head of department is. Then, reach out to that person via email and ask if you can organise a visit to the ward.

Make sure you're very understanding of how busy the ward is and assure them that you will not get in anyone's way or take up too much time.

I find it helps to take photographs (or notes if that's not possible) of the setting. Tiny details add verisimilitude. You may even find some interesting characters there: nurses or doctors with interesting tics.

I wish you luck! I have had varying degrees of success in getting assistance of this kind. Some people are incredibly helpful and excited about helping with a novel, while others won't give you the time of day, so be prepared for that!

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    One important note: while photographs can be useful, photographs of patients are absolutely out of the question. Patients need to be in a condition to be able to give consent to being photographed, which often isn't the case in hospitals (considering stress etc.) In fact, patient confidentiality is going to be an issue with seeing anything in a hospital, where it isn't at a vet's. That said, it doesn't hurt to ask. Jul 6 '18 at 13:53
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    @Galastel Yes! Absolutely, not the patients! I meant more the corridors, paintings on walls, small details that add depth to the setting, anything unusual. But yes, get permission, or take notes.
    – GGx
    Jul 6 '18 at 14:12

One way of getting a feel for a hospital is to sit and write in one (or more) of the public waiting rooms.

Several scenes in my first novel were set in York Hospital and I found it to be very helpful to go and sit in the hospital while I wrote them. This was useful in terms of experiencing the sensory details of sight, sound and smell, which are so vital to the practice of showing the scene. It was also helpful to see the flow of people and procedures, some of which I would not have been able to intuit without being on location.

I'm not sure whether your characters are staff or patients, so I apologise if the waiting room experience is not appropriate for you, but it certainly helped me.

Good luck with your writing.

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