June 1, 2001 From exam room to newsroom: MGH physicians delve into journalism
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June 1, 2001

From exam room to newsroom:
MGH physicians delve into journalism

Working at a world-renowned hospital, MGH physicians are never far from the spotlight. From publishing articles in medical journals to offering news commentary, their wide range of expertise makes them frequent favorites of the media. Yet a select few MGH doctors not only attract the media — they are the media.

060101laurariley.jpg (10485 bytes)"I just fell into TV work," says Laura Riley, MD, of the MGH Vincent Obstetrics and Gynecology Service. Riley made her TV debut in notable fashion — in her first live appearance, on the "Today" show, she was interviewed by none other than anchor Katie Couric.

Enjoying her brief foray into media medicine but wanting to do more, Riley (right) landed a spot on WCVB-TV Channel 5. After giving periodic health tips on "Doctor Call-In Hour," she became the station's HealthBeat correspondent.

Riley spent two years giving on-camera medical advice about everything from postpartum depression to breastfeeding, and says that she was amazed by the impact her segments had on viewers: "Being on television, I found I was able to educate people, to emphasize things that might seem mundane to patients in everyday conversation."

Riley eventually made the decision to put her media career on hold. "TV is very hard work, and I just don't have that time to give up right now," she explains. "But if the right opportunity came up — something I could do on my own terms — I would take it in a heartbeat."

060101mallikamarshall.jpg (10659 bytes)For Mallika Marshall, MD, of the MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, the right opportunity began as an unexpected one. Marshall had grown up with an inside look at the world of journalism — her mother is Carole Simpson, a respected correspondent for ABC's "World News Tonight." Yet Marshall says that initially, her professional tastes ran far from the newsroom. "My mom wanted me to venture into journalism, but I decided in high school that medicine was my field of interest," she remembers.

After completing medical school, however, Marshall began to consider an expansion of her planned career as a physician. "I thought to myself — 'I love being in front of an audience, and I love being a communicator. I can do this.'"

 Six months before Marshall (right) completed her residency, a friend put her in touch with the news director of WBZ-TV Channel 4.

"Looking at myself on tape, I was horrified," she says, recalling her initial audition. "I had seen my mother on TV, but doing it myself was different." Despite her trepidation, Marshall made an impression. Just before she began her clinical career at MGH Chelsea, she received the news that she had been selected as the station's new health reporter.                   

Nine months later, Marshall continues to work 25 hours per week at the health center, often heading into the Channel 4 studio on little sleep. Still, she says, "I have the best job in the world. I'm able to see patients of all ages in the clinic, and then reach out to thousands of patients as a medical journalist. I see my role as one of giving perspective. It's very important to offer the benefits and the detriments of a medical situation and let the patients decide for themselves."

060101annebeal.jpg (225481 bytes)Anne Beal, MD, MPH, of MassGeneral Hospital for Children, has embarked upon dual pursuits in television as well as print journalism. Beal also commits much time to research, and says that she has a special interest in "exploring the role of the media as a social influence."

After contacting the editor of Essence magazine to propose the addition of a doctor's column for patient questions, Beal became the medical writer for the publication in 1996. "I found I enjoy the challenge of thoroughly, clearly covering a topic in such a short space," she says. "It's so rewarding. I can talk about things in the column like I would with my own patients, but to a much larger audience." Drawing from her experience fielding reader questions for her column, Beal went on to write "The Black Parenting Book," which she describes as "real world advice for parents of color."

After undergoing media training for her book tour, Beal (right) caught the attention of NBC's "Later Today" program. Producers were so impressed with her first few shows that they invited her to join "Lifetime Live," where she was a medical correspondent until the show's cancellation last January. Today, she continues to see patients, write for Essence and, four times a year, tape segments for "American Baby TV" on the FX network.

Beal concedes that both pros and cons arise from juggling medicine and media. "Building a career in the journalism industry is hard," she says. "A show can be hot one week and not the next. But I do enjoy giving a piece of valuable patient education to the public. There is something about hearing a message in the media that makes it stick with patients."

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