Wick Communications

Physicians and reporters

In journalism on February 17, 2012 at 9:23 am

The other day I had the pleasure of trading emails with a very talented Stanford University student. Joyce Ho holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford, where she is currently in her second year of medical school. She is taking a year off from school to be the inaugural Stanford-NBC News Fellow in Media and Global Health. In addition, she created the Stanford Service in Global Health Journal and has completed graduate courses in the university’s journalism program. Did I mention she is a concert pianist? (That is not her in the photo, by the way, but rather one of my favorite physicians, Dr. Joy Enriquez.)

I was struck by something Ho wrote in her blog. (You can find her blog here and I recommend you follow her on Twitter, too. It compared one aspect of her training as both a media professional and an aspiring doctor. I asked if I could reprint it and she graciously agreed. Ho wrote the following in November. — Clay

One of the things I have come to really enjoy and appreciate is the opportunity to interview the subjects of my articles and multimedia pieces. In a way, being a reporter reminds me a lot of being a physician-in-training – both roles require me to go into a room, learn an individual’s story inside out, and present the learned information for a further goal.

In Professor (R.B.) Brenner’s “Public Issues Reporting” class, the journalism students practiced interviewing techniques not too far off from the interviewing skills I learned through Stanford’s “Practice of Medicine” course. Both classes emphasized empathy towards the subject. Both courses taught the art of extracting information through carefully worded questions. …

Similarly, the theme of “Keep asking open-ended questions to draw out more information from the subject!” appeared in both courses. The topic of dealing with sensitive information in an emotional environment was also discussed. Professor Brenner told us that his personal rule for interviewing subjects involved with a tragedy is to try three times; if the subject still refuses, then reporters should respect the interviewee’s wishes. In medicine, physicians learn to work with and around their patients’ emotions every day in a range of situations. Both professions need to find the right balance between maintaining an effective work rhythm and taking the time to manage and respect their interviewee’s emotions.

What really struck me is how both reporters and physicians are in the unique situation of having to learn the most personal details from their interviewee’s lives. We are both working towards collecting all the pieces of the puzzle leading up to an event, whether it is a case of pneumonia or a bank robbery, so that we can piece together the whole story in order to find the truth of the matter.

I have often found that I can use the interviewing skills I learned during medical school during my reporting interviews. Many of the subjects I have interviewed for articles have shared very personal and emotionally charged stories with me. “I trust you to tell my story. I want others to know about these issues,” said one of my interviewees. Her words reminded me of the many patient interviews I have done for medical school training. My patients need to trust me to understand and then tell their stories too, so I can be their health advocate and bridge to medical care.

Joyce Ho

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