Lights, camera, soap and water

nurse washing hands

Who knew all those HUP employees had musical, dancing and acting talents, as well as medical ones?

In student Ryan Leonard’s nearly four-minute video, “Heroes Wash Up,” a cast of HUP employees—doctors, nurses, administrators and even security guards—sing, sway and snap to impart the importance of hand washing.

Leonard, a senior majoring in Chinese, created the video with the hospital’s Hand Hygiene Committee and Mary Ellen “Mel” Kearney, a registered nurse in the Division of Occupational Medicine at HUP. Leonard directed and edited; Kearney served as producer. The lyrics to “Heroes Wash Up” are sung to the tune of “Dou Jiang You Tiao (“Perfect Match”), originally sung by Singaporean-Chinese pop singer JJ Lin. The background voices are provided by Penn Yo, a Chinese a capelle group. The solos include Leonard, Jeff Wang and Douglas Tham.

Kearney and Leonard wrote the soap-and-water lyrics, with expert input from the committee. The film is part Sondheim, part sanitation and all in the name of keeping people healthy.

The lyrics advise: “It’s easy to forget, basic hand etiquette. In a rush or on the run, no excuse, get it done.” The chorus explains: “Wash your hands, keep ‘em clean, wash your hands, we are heroes. In the sink, on the go, you’re a hero!”

Filming took place over three days last March, and Leonard spent about eight hours editing the short. The camera was borrowed from Drexel.

“We got to film in the new Perelman Center, which was cool because it’s a nice building,” Leonard says. They got Arthur H. Rubenstein, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and dean of the School of Medicine, who just happened to be walking by, on film too, and also shot footage at offices of family practice physicians at 36th and Market streets.

This isn’t Leonard’s first “message” film. He also created the “Baby Be Wise – Immunize” video for HUP. He says the videos are effective public health communication tools because of the popularity of video-sharing sites like YouTube and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

“For something like hand hygiene and flu shot awareness, these are things that everyone knows,” he says. “But putting this in a form that people can enjoy, not just relate to but also enjoy, is something that I think encourages that behavior in a more effective way.”

Leonard says the most enjoyable part of making the film was seeing how HUP employees responded when they saw the completed video. “For me, as the director who really hoped that people would be involved, it’s really encouraging to see the final project and the general satisfaction among the people who were involved in it,” he says.

At this stage of life, Leonard has no plans to enter the film industry, but he won’t rule it out completely. He says the most effective films are those that make people think, and in order to make those films, he needs to do a lot more maturing.

“I need to grow a lot more, I need to do more reading,” he says. “After I compile a little more life experience, I think that I could really consider more seriously going into that field.”

After taking a year off after graduation, Leonard, who is on the pre-med track, plans to attend medical school. He is interested in working as a hospital-patient liaison, helping Chinese-speaking patients navigate the American health system.

“It’s not easy for us Americans, imagine how much harder it is for immigrants from other countries,” he says.

Heroes Wash Up” and “Baby Be Wise – Immunize” can be viewed online at

Originally published on December 3, 2009