While Leigh Vinocur, MD, FACEP, always knew she wanted to be a doctor, broadcasting was never far from her mind. With a love of writing and some college print journalism under her belt, she honed her communication skills during medical school — and in between residencies — by taking voice coaching, appearing on cable-access television, and enrolling in more courses. Now she’s an emergency physician and a television and radio medical correspondent — two jobs that are more alike than they appear to be.
Q: Why did you choose emergency medicine as your specialty?
A: I actually started out in urology but always loved working in the emergency department. Emergency medicine is a microcosm of society in that we see all the medical problems and ills you see in modern society: obesity, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, mental health issues, domestic violence. You get to effect change one patient at a time, and that has always been more appealing to me. I felt that in the ER I was doing more for the greater good.
Q: How did you get your start as a TV medical correspondent?
A: I pounded the pavement. Really, I just wanted advice on how to get started, but nobody would take my calls. After discovering that none of the local news directors would talk to me, I called the Washington, D.C., bureau chiefs and the only guy who took my call was Tim Russert from NBC, who didn’t know me from Adam. He was encouraging, gave me advice, and told me to persevere. Tim really was remarkable and kind, as everybody had been saying. Serendipitously, I was working at a hospital when an issue came up and I was asked to do an interview at the local NBC affiliate. The anchor, Dave Durian, was impressed with me and asked me to be on his radio show, which I still do every week. At one point I was asked to be the station’s medical reporter and consultant.
Q: From a health perspective, what do you think the media need to cover more of?
A: A focus on wellness and maintaining health is important. The thing I love most about broadcast journalism is the public health aspect. When I’m a doctor in the ER, I help one person at a time. But when I speak about a topic on the air, I can affect a broader change. Even working a shift in the ER, I’ll have people come in because they saw something on television, and I think that’s very powerful.
Q: In what ways is being a television medical correspondent different from practicing emergency medicine?
A: Surprisingly, there are a lot more similarities. In the ER you have to be able to speak about any topic in medicine, be current on everything, and be prepared to take care of any medical problem that walks through the door. In broadcast journalism, you have to be ready for anything and react immediately. Basically, in both, you have to think on your feet and talk about it.