What’s Your Story?
Radiologists are joining the wider conversation in medicine. Here’s what you need to know about getting involved.
Nicole B. Saphier, MD, participates in an interview on “Fox and Friends.”
When Jennifer L. Kemp, MD, FACR, a radiologist in Denver, Colo., participated in an interview with a New York Times reporter about radiologists being more patient-centered, it did not go as she expected. “Initially, I started rambling off facts and figures. I thought I needed to prove what I was saying with data,” she says. But then the reporter began to pull a story out of her.
“I shared my personal experience as a caregiver for my husband when he was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer. I felt how much more engaged the reporter was than before. I learned then how powerful stories can be in getting our messages across,” Kemp says. “They help us communicate who we are, what we do, and help us advocate for the things we believe in.”
As radiologists step out of the dark room and communicate more with patients, they may be called upon to give their opinions in the media. They may also feel the desire to deliver messages themselves through published stories. How can radiologists use the media as a tool to further patient care?
Starting With a Story
How do you even decide if the story or topic you feel passionately about is worth the media’s attention? For Nicole B. Saphier, MD, director of breast imaging at Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth Regional, all that matters is you’ve decided you have a story to tell. “Every story is worth telling,” she says. “Someone will always be able to relate to it, and someone else will always learn from it.”
A. Nina Watson, MD
A. Nina Watson, MD, assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, agrees. She advises that you ask yourself, does the story relate to a topic trending in the news? Or does it concern an issue that is not being addressed properly? If the answer is yes, you may have a good story on your hands. For Watson, that story was the importance of screening mammograms. “There was so much confusion on when and how often to have a mammogram, and I felt I had a duty to help educate,” she says. “Although I was doing well reaching patients one on one, working with media outlets I could reach hundreds or thousands of patients at once.” Watson approached several news media outlets with the idea of educating patients on the benefits of an annual screening mammogram and did a television segment and several news articles on the topic.
Using Your Position
Radiologists’ unique position as physicians makes them an ideal source for stories, says Heather C. Sher, MD, a musculoskeletal radiologist in Fort Lauderdale. Sher decided to share her experience interpreting the medical imaging of Parkland, Fla., victims after the February shooting. She wrote about her experiences in The Atlantic, highlighting the injuries caused by assault weapons like the AR-15. “We witness the manifestations of all types of illnesses and injuries in our patients that have ramifications to inform public policy,” she says. “We have a duty to use our education to not only diagnose and treat individual patients but also for advocacy. I think it’s essential that physicians remain credible and their opinions be rooted in evidence-based medicine. This is the value we lend to national conversations on public health and our writings in the lay press must respect this.”
When Sher began receiving feedback on her piece, a number of commenters were misinformed about the role radiologists play in healthcare: “Radiologists don’t treat people” or “Radiologists don’t have patients,” they said. “This experience reaffirmed my belief that we need to do a better job engaging with our patients and the public,” says Sher.
Finding a Platform
So you’ve decided you have a story to tell. The next step is to decide where to tell it. Saphier suggests op-ed pieces in mainstream media and professional journals, posts on social media, and providing testimony
through forums with government leaders to help inform policy. Not sure which to pick? Saphier suggests finding the outlet where your story will appeal to the broadest audience. Are you speaking about an issue that pertains solely to radiologists? Perhaps the best place to share your story is with a radiology journal. Does your story deal with patient care, or could it inform policy? Find a more public platform, such as a mainstream media outlet or even Twitter.
Pitching Your Story
If you choose to write your story and publish it on a public platform, you’ll have to pitch it to the media. Sher picked the publications she trusted and emailed their editors. Although her story was accepted immediately, thatmay not always be the case.
In the event of rejection, Saphier advises to keep working at it anyway: “Rejection is inevitable, but the only way to have a chance at getting your story out to the world is putting yourself out there,” says Saphier. To increase your chances of acceptance, she advises making yourself better known by getting out on social media, presenting on your topic at conferences, and generally making yourself available to contribute.
Speaking With Reporters
What if you’re not writing the story yourself, but are approached by reporters for comment? First, make sure you’re not in conflict with your institution or practice. Find out what your hospital's or practice’s policies are regarding participating in media interviews, advises Watson. Continue to have open lines of communication with your administration about the interview even if you’ve been given the okay, just in case of any potential backlash, adds Sher.
As for the interview itself, write down the key messages you want to convey ahead of time, suggests Kemp. That will help you stay on point. Speak to reporters in short, direct sentences, so that you can keep your meaning clear, says Watson. When answering questions, she also recommends restating the question itself and making it part of your answer to give better context.
According to Saphier, whether you publish it yourself or share it with a reporter, stories are a valuable way to educate the public about issues that are important to you.“In an era of AI and instant gratification, it is essential radiologists get out of the dark and into the patients’ line of sight,” she says.
A. Nina Watson, MD, prepares for a television segment on the benefits of an annual screening mammogram.
By Meghan Edwards, freelance writer, ACR Press