When the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago, media outlets everywhere scrambled to find expert medical sources they could trust. One such outlet was WBEZ 91.5, Chicago’s NPR affiliate station, and they found their expert source in Mia Taormina, DO.
Dr. Taormina, based in suburban Lombard, Illinois, is an infectious disease specialist and the chair of DuPage Medical Group’s ID department. Since March 2020, she has been a contributing COVID-19 expert on WBEZ’s Reset, a news talk show, once a week. In each of her roughly 30-minute-long segments, she discusses recent pandemic news developments with the host before taking callers’ questions live on the air.
“I definitely figured it out as I went,” said Dr. Taormina, who had limited media experience prior to last year. “The first couple of times that I was live and answering questions, there was a measure of nerves, but I’ve grown to feel really comfortable with the callers as time has marched on with this pandemic. I am an expert in this field, and I feel capable of helping people with easy answers.”
In this edited Q&A, Dr. Taormina discusses how a one-off interview on WBEZ turned into a year-long partnership, how she makes sure she is equipped with the most up-to-date information, and what physicians looking to get involved with media can do to refine their speaking skills.
How were you first connected to WBEZ, and how did you become a regular contributor on Reset?
It was a fortunate series of events, and it’s been my absolute pleasure. One of the producers must have had a contact with DuPage Medical Group and reached out to see if they could do a live Q&A with me in the second week of March 2020. This was when we started to see COVID case numbers come up. So I did a few, but enough people kept calling in that the host at the time had to keep saying “we’ll get to this the next time the doctor’s on.”
So they asked if there was any way I could continue doing this through June. I said yes, but eventually, it became every single Friday, and I haven’t stopped. If they tell me tomorrow, thanks, we don’t need you anymore, it’s been a great ride. It’s a weekly adventure.
What are the sources of information you rely the most on to stay prepared for the show?
I try to be as up to date as possible on every single thing that I say, and I want all of the data and statistics I cite to be easily found. I definitely lean on the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and on the DuPage County Health Department as well. I also pay very close attention to notifications from the state I get every single day with all the pertinent updates, like case counts, ICU capacity, and bed counts.
Ngozi Ezeke, MD, the director of IDPH, has actually worked closely with my medical group, and we helped the city of Chicago to establish a field hospital in the early stages of the pandemic. So I’ve made connections in those ways, and I get a lot of input from the city and state that is helpful when answering questions from our local callers.
As a physician, do you see a lot of COVID patients?
I’m seeing patients every day, some with COVID, and others with a variety of other infectious disease concerns. There was a huge chunk of time where nearly my entire census was all COVID patients, which allowed me to really become well-versed in the treatment and management of these cases.
I also serve as one of the chairs of the infection control task force at DuPage Medical Group. So I lead daily safety huddle meetings regarding protocols for the vaccine rollout, or testing.
We’ve pivoted so many times in the last year on policies and management, and I was integral in developing pretty much the entire employee health protocol. And now we’re up to our necks in the vaccine rollout.
What advice would you give to DOs who are interested in similar media opportunities?
This is something you’re not trained for, and it definitely evolves over time. Make sure it’s something you feel comfortable with and don’t feel put on the spot to speak on a topic that’s too far out of your area of expertise. Because at the end of the day, that would not serve you or the listeners well.
As far as getting those opportunities goes, the best possible reference is word of mouth. If you have friends that know you well, and know your work well and happen to have ties to media, that’s going to be a good lead-in because of the fact that you can offer up those services.
I also think that someone who is a natural lecturer or public speaker does better with being on the spot and media and radio and TV. A good way to refine those skills is to try and get your foot in the door lecturing, even giving lectures to residents. That will help you train yourself to answer questions on the spot quickly.