Every now and then, I hear from a young person who wants advice on how to start a career as a health journalist, and I’m never able to help. It’s embarrassing. Though I’ve been at this for a frightfully long time, I went the usual newspaper route of covering cops and zoning boards until the medical writer’s job opened up (thanks, Irene!). I don’t know if that’s even an option today. Felice Freyer Medical Journalist
Unfortunately, this is all too common in the journalistic world. It poses true for the genre of healthcare journalism. And in a time of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” this is serious.
Majority of health care analysts, have no medical background. For the past 6 months, I’ve conducted an experiment. Every time I read an article written by a medical analyst, I researched them. My conclusion: most of them went to journalism school and took whatever job came their way.
Sure they worked for media outlets like CNN or the NY Times, but they have no working first hand knowledge about healthcare. Yet they are viewed as experts in the field.
So why aren’t more nurses writing journalistic articles? Why aren’t they teaching journalistic writing in nursing school?
My journey into nursing journalism was a “happy” accident. I reached out to my current editor Catherine at “Working Nurse Magazine,” and asked her to write a story about my storytelling show “Nurses and Hypochondriacs.” She then sent me back an email stating: “could you write an article about haunted hospitals?”
Along with my “query” about my show, I had submitted a short story I had written about a little girl ghost who haunts a children’s hospital. Reluctantly, I accepted the writing challenge on haunted hospitals. Of course she did offer to pay me, which was all the more enticing.
My first assignment was absolutely exciting. I spent lot’s of time researching the internet, interviewing people on twitter, and even made a trip to the Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights, California. I put all my nursing skills to action. I was blown away by how all my skills could be showcased in one article. And I was especially surprised at how much I learned in the process.
Every time I write an article, it’s as if I’m cracking some type of case not even Agatha Christy could figure out. It’s fun. And in the process I’m providing “real facts” enmeshed with my experiences from the last twenty years in the nursing profession.
I recently had a student from the UCLA MECN program give me a call. She was a journalist who wanted to continue her craft in the nursing profession. Unlike Felice Freyer, I was able to give her focused direction which was: start a blog, start writing queries to healthcare related publications, be a guest on a healthcare related podcast and write opinion editorial pieces to news paper outlets. The most important thing is that you start, and you put all your nursing knowledge in front of you. After all you are an expert!
Nurses possess all the skills needed to be excellent journalists. We are taught to assess situations, and give our patients a diagnosis. We are taught intense research skills to come up with a conclusion. We are always figuring out what the best solution is to any problem. And of course we have first hand bedside knowledge of how the healthcare system works.
Nurses are the ones who experience patient’s stories first hand. They have an empathetic connected view of the healing process. Which is why it is crucial for them to step up and start writing. Start sharing stories and telling the truth of what is going on in healthcare.