Smaller media outlets provide great opportunities for pediatricians
Gilbert. L.Fuld, M.D., FAAP
Mastering the Media
When I was a medical student many years ago, our class was treated to a lecture by
a senior physician who stated that professionalism requires doctors to be identified
in the media no more than three times in their lives — when they are born, when they
marry and when they die.
In the ’90s, an AAP president told the Board of Directors he believed the Academy
should not be identified in the media for taking any position that might be controversial.
Clearly, those days are over.
The health and welfare of our patients, their families and the profession of pediatrics
require our individual and collective involvement in the public square. In the 21st
century, pediatricians using the media to inform and influence the public is professionalism.
The media landscape has changed, thanks to the internet and the proliferation of blogs,
websites, tweets and the array of social media. But let’s not forget the influence
of older media. Yes, newspapers are not as thick as they used to be, and local radio
stations increasingly play canned content. But in smaller communities, they generally
are open to local commentary.
Here are some easy ways that those who live outside of metropolitan areas can use
the local media to connect with the public.
Write a letter to the editor
Letters are the easiest and sometimes most effective way to be heard. Many readers
turn first to the letters. Having the New York Times publish your letter is akin to winning the lottery. Submitting a letter to your hometown
daily often is a sure thing. Most weeklies and smaller dailies will print just about
anything, especially if it’s written by a local pediatrician.
Educate your audience
Newspapers love to highlight local differences of opinion. Your name will be attached,
so don’t argue, educate. Use the same tone you’d use talking to a patient in the office.
This is particularly important if you’re commenting on a local dispute, e.g., responding
to a strident local anti-vaxxer. Because letters may be edited only lightly, be careful
about syntax, grammar, spelling and above all, facts.
Use your connections to do more
As a pediatrician in a smaller community, you’re virtually a public figure. Newspaper
editors and reporters probably know who you are or your kids and theirs might go to
school together or play on the same sports team. Therefore, you already have access
to get your commentary published as an op-ed piece or even to write a periodic column.
Respond when the media call you
Even if you don’t have a personal contact, you’ll improve your odds of being published
if reporters and editors know you’re willing to respond when called about an article
or a controversy. A small-town physician is a public figure, so you will be called.
And if you don’t respond, who will offer your perspective?
Don’t forget radio
Much the same applies to getting on one of the ubiquitous call-in radio programs.
If you’re unable to be a studio guest, you can always call in, with or without identifying
yourself. Better yet, offer to host a regularly scheduled medical program and use
the forum to educate your audience.
Amplify your success with social media
When you get into the paper, be it a letter, op-ed, interview or quote, tell your
Facebook and Twitter friends. If you’re scheduled on broadcast media, let them know
ahead of time.
Of course, not everybody will agree with what you have to say, including some of your
patients, but the possibility of alienating them is small. The problems affecting
our patients are such that you’ll be most effective as a pediatrician if you periodically
reach outside the comfort of your office to inform and enlighten your community. Use
the influence you have. In a small community, it’s considerable.
Dr. Fuld is a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media and former chair
of the council’s executive committee.