Many physicians write articles for local news outlets and pursue radio and television appearances to stay up-to-date on health news and increase their practice’s visibility. But physicians should realize that their active involvement with the media can also benefit their community and public health, said media health expert Jennifer Caudle, DO, during an OMED session Tuesday.
When working with the media, physicians can use their expertise to educate a greater pool of the public than just their patient population, noted Dr. Caudle, who regularly appears on CNN, Fox News and other media outlets.
“Who better to talk about health than everyone sitting in this room?” she asked.
As a third-year medical student, Dr. Caudle said, she began noticing with interest that news shows would often present dubious health information.
“You hear all these almost ridiculous claims or studies that are being talked about in the news, maybe without context, maybe without perspective,” she said. “Throughout the years I’ve [wondered], ‘Who is actually reading these studies? Who’s in charge of presenting this information to the public?’ “
Dr. Caudle wanted to lend a physician’s expertise to the media’s health conversation. She spent more than a decade working her way up to the national news networks, and she managed to do so while holding a full-time job, which she still has. At OMED, she shared some tips with DOs interested in following her footsteps.
How do I get started?
To get started, first consider what your goals are, suggests Dr. Caudle, who is also an assistant professor of family medicine at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey. Are you interested in networking, promoting your practice, educating the public, engaging with your patients, developing your personal brand or some combination of the above?
Then, decide what you’d like to contribute to the medical conversation, she noted. Have you published heavily in a certain area? Could you serve as an expert in that field? Do you have personal experiences, such as family circumstances or a history of serving on a committee or board, that you can draw relevant insights from?
Next, you’ll want to identify opportunities. If you work for a hospital or a university, an easy first step is to meet with your organization’s communications or marketing departments, Dr. Caudle suggested. Their staff can steer some of the media requests they receive to you. In addition, they may be able to help you obtain media training so you can develop a smoother on-camera personality.
A second step would be researching the media in your area. Learn which TV shows and segments you might be a good fit for, listen to local news and public radio shows, and check out local newspapers and websites.
After you have a list of potential media outlets in mind, you’ll want to start contacting them to pitch yourself as a potential source and present your story ideas. For TV and radio, you’ll be reaching out to producers. For newspapers, magazines and the Web, you’ll typically be contacting editors or reporters.
When pitching yourself as a source, choose a news hook related to your field of expertise, Dr. Caudle suggested. For instance, around the holidays, news outlets may be producing segments on holiday stress. Also consider offering a new twist on a perennially covered topic, such as weight loss. Make sure your pitch is a good fit for the outlet’s target demographic, whether it’s composed of parents, the elderly or another group.
Pitches are best sent via email, Dr. Caudle said, and should be relatively short and easy to read. She suggests sending an email in which you identify yourself, say what your expertise is, and briefly introduce your idea in a single paragraph.
“Put it in one sentence: a one-liner describing what you want to talk about and then [include] three or four talking points underneath it backing up what you’re going to tell them,” she suggested. “Really, this paragraph should be readable in about 30 seconds because that’s about all they’re going to take to read it. And the subject line should be [something like] ‘Pitch, seven reasons to get the flu shot, medical expert.’ Something very quick.”
Be prepared for rejection or radio silence, Dr. Caudle warned, noting that 60% to 70% of her pitches are not accepted. But once a pitch is successful, you’ll want to prepare for the interview. Preparing well and knowing the topic inside out will increase your success as an interviewee, Dr. Caudle noted. Avoid weighing in on topics with which you are unfamiliar, she advised, and remember that you are a physician.
“Evidence-based medicine: This is my personal mantra,” she said. “I only talk about things that are evidence-based. Why? Because that’s what we should be doing as physicians. Everything I say is evidence-based because it should be in the office, too.”
You’ll also want to practice before going on camera or submitting an article for publication, Dr. Caudle noted. Your company’s media department may be able to help you, or you can recruit another physician, a member of your staff or a family member to practice with you. If you’re writing, have a colleague or a relative read your article. Dr. Caudle sends her articles to her parents to proofread. “Practicing” with local news outlets and smaller newspapers can also help you fine-tune your speaking and writing skills before you pursue opportunities with larger outlets.
Then, after your piece runs, you’ll want to share it with the world, Dr. Caudle noted. Post links to the piece on social media, and print out your articles and hang them up in your office.
Dr. Caudle recommended that physicians develop a robust social media presence even if they don’t personally engage with the media. Social media is a tool physicians can use to contribute to the medical conversation and connect with an audience, she noted. More than 90% of Internet-using adults have embraced social media, according to Experian Marketing Services. To help physicians navigate social media, the AOA published social media guidelines for physicians this year, and social media researcher Almari Ginory, DO, advised physicians on social media use at OMED last year.
Presentation attendee Saroj Misra, DO, who has also worked with the media, told The DO he hoped more osteopathic physicians would get involved and help raise awareness of osteopathic medicine.
“Osteopathic physicians have an opportunity with these media outlets to promote what we do, especially because what we do is so in line with concepts that the general public is interested in now in terms of medical care, such as holistic medicine,” said Dr. Misra, a family physician from East Lansing, Michigan. “We have a unique opportunity at this time in history to promote our brand and promote what we do, and we need to take advantage of that.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated March 12, 2015, to remove a broken link.