As a resident physician in Emergency Medicine, my day ranges from treating the common cold to a heart attack to a gunshot victim. These patients are in rooms right next door to each other. It’s organized chaos, often mentally and physically exhausting (especially during pandemic times), but nonetheless rewarding and a job I love.
The night before I met Michael Smerconish, I worked overnight. The Emergency Department was full. Busy stitching up cuts and pulling dislocated bones into place, I had not sat once during my shift. The first question Michael asked me was – Why did I want to spend a month working with him? What does a doctor gain from learning about the media? The answer to this question lies in the parallels between professional journalism and medicine.
The timeline to become a doctor includes four years of college, four years of medical school, and three plus years of residency. I joke that I am in the 23rd grade. In my last year of residency, I am able to choose “elective time”, a month to learn something new and, oftentimes, completely different from clinical emergency medicine. I chose the media. Completely foreign to me (I put my headphones on backwards and upside down the first day), I quickly realized that although my training is vigorous, so too is the training of journalists and commentators who take years to develop their skills.
I don’t remember my answer to Michael’s question. Reflecting now, I realize that as critical as it is to be an expert on the facts: how to treat an asthma exacerbation, what to do when someone has a seizure, equally essential is to know how to treat a patient holistically. What are patients most fearful of? What is a patient’s perspective? And what frames that perspective is – the media.
Physicians are experts at dissecting scientific journals. We analyze studies and critically assess their design. However, how we interpret complicated data can be at odds with what is portrayed in the media. It’s understandable why. The general population doesn’t want to read “Thrombocytopathy and endotheliopathy: crucial contributors to COVID-19 thromboinflammation”. They want something simpler: “COVID causes blood clots”. When the science is diluted, the message is changed, and often untrue. It takes skill to digest a complicated subject matter, to make it easy to understand, and most importantly, to make it true. This is something Michael does well. He lays out the facts in simple terms using common sense analogies.
Michael has perfected the skill of collecting data and discussing news in a balanced way. I have had the privilege of experiencing the behind-the-scenes sitting between Michael and TC, in the blue swivel chairs in his studio. Here are my observations. First, vast amounts of time are spent fact-checking, and combing through articles from different sources, before a well-informed and balanced discussion is formulated. It takes hours to sort through hundreds of pages of text and to evaluate all sides before reporting reliable news. Second, Michael and TC are genuine on air and in person. Their radio and TV persona mirrors who they truly are. The transition from on-air to off is seamless. Michael and TC work together as a team to push every story forward and make it fun because, similar to myself, they love what they do.
Journalism and medicine require frank, honest communication. While I am often tasked with breaking news to a patient, Michael is tasked with breaking news to the public. The techniques are similar. Information presented must be clear, concise, and based on truth. the presenter must be unbiased, direct, and honest, as well as empathetic and understanding. Lastly, it requires stepping back and listening to the concerns of the audience or patient.
Before I started my month with Michael and TC, I resuscitated a small child in the trauma bay. The sight of a child covered in blood on a cold stretcher is unimaginable. Burned in my brain is the conversation I had with his mother, “your son was shot and died today”. A week later, I was researching the national headlines of the Uvalde shooting. These events are all connected. My patient who unfairly lost their life at age 10, is not alone. Dr. Mazz wrote in the book “Wonder Drug” about the “self-care” and “self-servicing culture” we live in today and how science shows that it is not good to be completely self-focused. The media too needs to move from being “me-focused”, to a place where people can come together with the facts, and brainstorm solutions to move our country forward. Michael and TC are setting the precedent.
This month of my residency training has been amazing. I’m thankful to Dr. Mazz, the first Smerconish intern and the inspiration for my time on the show, Michael, TC, Dan, Alex, PJ, Randy, and finally the Smerconish listeners. By facilitating balanced discussions, Michael has formed an intelligent audience, who have contributed immensely to my learning. In my first week on the show, we were discussing “The National Mental breakdown”, and the pessimism that America is facing. I too am emotionally impacted by these headlines. I have seen firsthand how the political divide in this country and media misinformation can impact the life-threatening decisions that face my patients.
I remember James from Orlando calling in to say “We have to understand that things can be bad and getting better at the same time”. Although I cannot make light of the challenges plaguing America today, and the issues that divide us, my time on the Michael Smerconish Program has shown me hope. We are talking about these issues every day, and working to bridge media disparity.
Back to Michael’s original question: why spend a month of my residency training in a media internship? Working with Michael has given me valuable insight into my journey as a healthcare professional and the responsibilities needed to serve patients. The path of an effective doctor and a journalist are parallel. I hold a stethoscope, and Michael holds a microphone and correctly placed headphones, however, both of us share a responsibility to set aside our biases and focus on informing our patients/audience of the truth. After a month on the Michael Smerconish Program, I can say that it has been challenging and rewarding for both of us.