September 23, 2002 12:00 PM

Patricia Richardson didn’t need to do a lot of research to prepare for her new role as former Army doctor Andy Campbell on Lifetime’s Strong Medicine. For one thing, she grew up with an armed-forces background. “My father was a Navy fighter pilot, so I’m familiar with the way military people think,” says the former Home Improvement star. Also, Richardson has spent an inordinate amount of time in hospitals over the past few years, tending to her parents. “My mother had three hip surgeries and a hand surgery, and my father had back, hip, knee and open-heart surgery,” says Richardson, 51, who lives in L.A. with her psychologist boyfriend Mark Cline and her children from a previous marriage (Henry, 17, and twins Joe and Roxie, 11). “I feel like I know the name of every medication.”

Although her parents are still battling health ordeals, Richardson has found time to focus on her career. “I really missed working,” says Richardson, who’s acted sporadically since Home Improvement went off the air in 1999. Not that she had trouble getting back into the swing of things; after all, when you move 11 times as a kid, you pick up tricks on adapting. “You have to befriend the girls right away,” she says. “You can’t afford to let them think you’re out to steal their boyfriends.”

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