Melissa Leong in The Hospital: In The Deep End

Melissa Leong in The Hospital: In The Deep End. Photo: SBS

'How do you prepare for something like this?' Melissa Leong trades the kitchen for hospital in new docu-series

Melissa Leong, best known for her work as a judge on the hugely popular MasterChef series, says new show The Hospital: In The Deep End was her 'deepest' and 'most intense' work assignment to date.

Whether it’s through The Chef’s Line or MasterChef Australia, the name Melissa Leong has long been associated with food. However, the TV star ventures into very new territory this month in SBS documentary series, The Hospital: In The Deep End.

Alongside Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis and Logie-winning actor Samuel Johnson, Leong is thrown into the deep end – the emergency department at St Vincent’s Emergency Department in Sydney, where she witnesses medical staff in action, and learns of the stories behind the patients receiving their care. 

Confronting and no doubt emotional at times, this gig surely can’t be easy. 

“I mean, what’s easy about the world of work? What’s easy in general in terms of what I’ve done for work in the last couple of years?” Leong laughs during a phone interview with Missing Perspectives. 

“I think that there is something to be said for throwing yourself – pun intended – in the deep end, and seeing how you cope with certain situations,” Leong adds.

Leong's Mum was a registered nurse back in the day, but even that early life exposure to the realities of healthcare wasn't enough to prepare her for the The Hospital: In The Deep End.

“How do you prepare for something like this? You can't, other than to remember in every second and in every moment, to be fully present, and to be there to remind yourself that you're there to bear witness to the actions and the stories of other people. It’s what's happening around you that really is important. All you're doing is really conveying that experience to the audience.” 

Melissa Leong in The Hospital: In The Deep End

Melissa Leong in The Hospital: In The Deep End. Photo: SBS

In that respect, it’s somewhat similar to Leong's previous television work, where yes, she may have tasted food, but she also forged connections and helped people share their stories with a wider audience.

“It might seem different from the external point of view, but I think what I've been so lucky to come to realise I'm good at is conveying the stories of others,” she reflects. “This is yet another way that I'm able to do something like that.”

The series strives to hold a mirror to the challenges that exist in the public health system and what it takes to keep it up and running.

“I think what strikes me is that as Australians, we take this service for granted,” says Leong. “We take the public health system for granted that you know, on our worst day or on the worst day of someone in our lives, we have the system here to catch us.

“It's a very fragile ecosystem, and we're very lucky to be the recipients of it because if you look around the world, not everyone has it as lucky as we do. I think the one thing when I came away from it was an extra shot of gratitude for what exists to take care of us.” 

Melissa Leong and Samuel Johnson in The Hospital: In The Deep End

Melissa Leong and Samuel Johnson in The Hospital: In The Deep End. Photo: SBS

With filming taking place in Sydney over several weeks, Leong had the chance to meet patients with various conditions, such as a breast cancer patient undergoing breast reconstruction surgery, and another requiring immediate brain tumour surgery in the Neurosurgery Department. Leong found having the opportunity to speak to these patients and their loved ones, to understand the time, travel and emotional labour involved in grappling with their situations, confronting but invaluable. It gave her a new perspective, and she hopes viewers feel that too. 

“There's an emotional load that comes with a job like that, and it’s a great privilege to be given that opportunity, of course, but it does require that you be safe with the weight of it all. It's not by any means something that you swan in and kiss a few babies and you shake a few hands and you leave again,” she explains.

“This is something a lot deeper and a lot more intense than perhaps what I've experienced in the past in the world of work, but it really gave a lot of context and a lot of perspective to my own life."

The Hospital: In The Deep End premieres on Thursday, June 6 at 8:30PM on SBS. Episodes air weekly and are available to stream on SBS On Demand the day of broadcast.