Courtesy of inspiredeconomist.com

1. What are some of the most rewarding aspects of combining the fields of media and medicine?

I think most people go into medicine at some point to think about individual health as well as public health as part of their training and thinking. Being a medical reporter allows me to talk about issues to broad squads of people. Health is a great common denominator. If you look at the things that can actually tie people from other countries, health is one of them. To be able to give a message is very satisfying and you don’t have to be a doctor to do it. There are terrific medical reporters who aren’t doctors. In my case, speaking from the position of a physician is helpful.

2. One of the first pieces of advice you gave in your piece was to be self-deprecating. Can you elaborate on that statement?

It was a bit of a funny thing. I think people have all different styles of how they communicate something. I think no matter if you are a physician communicating with patients one by one or a reporter reporting, the key to all this is that the audience has some sort of connection with you. Self-deprecation is a tool to get there. It is usually more humorous. It is a way to connect with people in a way that is genuine.

3. You mentioned that medicine is your true love. How do you have time to practice neurosurgery and be an assistant professor at Emory University with such a busy schedule?

I operate every Monday and every other Friday, and see patients in the office on Tuesday. It is about 50 percent practice now and it has evolved into what it is. I have been doing this for about a decade. You notice two things. I am an academic neurosurgeon, so when I was doing just academic neurosurgery, clinically I probably did about the same amount of stuff. A lot of my time was spent doing academic work where I am authoring chapters of books or conducting mainly clinical research and some bench research projects. I don’t really do that anymore, I now focus on media. The other thing is, it’s a busy life. I don’t get to do a lot of the things that I [would] get to do [because I have] two jobs. When I go away to Haiti for several weeks, where the hospital is very supportive of my work, they expect me to make up the time when I get back. A lot of my colleagues will go on two week vacations, but I don’t get to do that.

4. You talked about how when you’re reporting on overseas stories, there are aspects that you cannot cover to the public media. How do you personally find the balance between giving people an insight into what’s going really going on and not giving them more than they can handle?

There are two things I was talking about. There are some things that are too much for people to see. You need to remember that on television, anyone can watch what is on, like kids who aren’t ready to see images like that. I think a lot of that is judgment and you get judgment by being in the field; you just have to know. So much of what we do is live television. You don’t have the opportunity for someone else to weigh in and say in ‘I don’t think so.’ You have to make those decisions on the fly. Being in the field, while you want to be totally engaged in what you cover, you also want to be able to take a step back and see it from the audience’s viewpoint for a second. If someone just happens to flip to that channel for that split second and see something that’s just maybe too much, too graphic, too over the top, you need to be mindful of that.

The other thing I was talking about was more the personal stories, like the one in Sri Lanka. They inform the way I report, they happen to me and I have a sort of affinity for South Asian culture of Sri Lanka. I am South Asian. I know this culture, I know exactly what that mom was thinking when she gave the kid crackers to give to me. It’s this unbelievable hospitality in the face of an unbelievable disaster. It’s too much to try to convey this philosophical point to an audience on broadcast television. So it’s just something I tuck away and keep in my back pocket to share with people like you.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring medical students?

I think that the advice that I give now is that there are a lot of people weighing in on what medicine is. A lot of people have opinions about it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. People are more engaged in their health care system than they ever have been. When I started writing about this in the late ’80s and ’90s, no one cared, no one was talking about the preservation of Medicare and Medicaid. All these things were going to last forever. What I would say is to not to be dissuaded by the intense focus on health care and take it as something that will rally more discussion around it. I think it is the noblest of all professions and I still do and I always have. I think every day you wake up in the morning and know what your purpose is. There aren’t many jobs that can say that.

6. You are listed as an assistant professor at Emory University. Do you have time to teach at all?

I am an assistant professor of neurosurgery. I teach residents. They come to the OR with me, they come into clinic with me, we all do didactic lectures with the residents. I don’t teach first or second year medical students, but third and fourth year students do rotate with me.

7. You mentioned media and medicine as the two big components of your career, but do you consider teaching a third element?

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I put teaching under medicine because I work at an academic institution and everything I do is pretty much within medicine. I have residents with me and medical students with me, so they follow me around or attend lectures.

8. Do the teaching principles from academia also apply to media? Is there any crossover of skills?

It’s funny. When I started media, I had never done media before. People always have this preconceived notion of what they should be like on media. You imagine what you should act like on television but you should take a step back. If you just act as yourself, it’s much better. Everyone will recognize it immediately because you’re comfortable. So for me, being an academic for my whole professional life, that was a lot of what it was. I teach students, I teach residents and I teach patients that come into the office to get some sort of guidance. I start thinking of the audience as a patient-door, someone I want to educate. There is a lot of crossover.

9. How do you like Rochester?


It’s the first time I’ve been here. I got to walk around campus and took a nice run around Rochester. I’m from Michigan so the weather doesn’t bother me.

Nandini Venkateswaran is a member of the class of 2011.

Justin Fleming is a member of the class of 2013



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