“I’m nominating you for this…”, my chair’s email began. I gulped. Past emails that began like this typically required asks of me that had pushed me way outside of my comfort zone. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to taking risks. After all, like most of you, I am an ER physician. But these asks, they were of the “you’re doing an interview in front of the local news, that will be aired twice today, even though you’ve never been in front of a camera before” variety. That kind. Like any good sponsor, she approaches mentees with a sort of eagle mother bird culture, pushing the nestlings over the edge of their comfortable abode to get them using the wings she knows are ready to soar before it even occurs to the unsuspecting neophytes. In turn, she quietly slipped into the interview as the newscasters pummeled me with questions, standing at the doorway, nodding encouragingly from the corner of my eye, and demonstrating how to firmly guide them to curate the story. I read through the remainder of the email peering through just one eye. And that’s when everything changed.
What had been identified would be a perfect fit for this as yet unsuspecting nestling was a potential knack for me to increase my voice and visibility by becoming a writer in the public sphere. The email was about a call for applicants for the Public Voices Fellowship at Yale, for which I was successfully selected as one of twenty faculty from across Yale’s campus in 2015.
The Public Voices Fellowship is a program of the OpEd project, a national initiative to increase the voices of those underrepresented in the media, including women and racial/ ethnic minorities. As part of the one-year fellowship, fellows are matched with a nationally/ internationally renowned journalist, and encouraged to publish at least two OpEds on a given topic of interest. Determined to make the most out of this experience, and to take advantage of my remarkable mentor, I wrote and successfully placed nearly fifteen pieces that year.
As the epitome of the experience, I placed a piece in Time, “3 steps to combat racism in America”, pegged to my experience as a resident being approached by a pair of instigators while having dinner with some of my co-residents. As the seemingly incessant moments of them approaching and engaging our table unfolded, they proceeded to ostracize me, the only minority at the table, using racially driven comments. I used the anecdote as a spin-off to address racial tensions in America during the 2016 presidential elections, when they seemed at an all-time high. I addressed the persistent reality of this problem in the U.S., which even highly educated, seemingly advantaged people of color, are also subject to. In addition to this piece, which became a “top tweeted” article upon release, I have garnered several accolades for my writing including being selected as one of the top ten percent of writers on Medium in 2016, and as a 2017/2018 AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement in Science nominee.
So how can you complement your own career, and do the same?
Well, the good news is that we, as physicians, having gone through, (sometimes painstaking) university English classes, being former medical school graduates, and having written for scholarly journals, have some to all of the necessary skills to easily adapt and launch in this area. Alas, the English classes come to use!
The OpEd project outlines nicely the infrastructure for a basic OpEd:
- Start your piece using a lede or hook, which can be an anecdote or personal experience, news headline, anniversary: any sort of timely event that makes your piece relevant today! (And that pulls your reader in!)
- Thesis/argument: what is it that you are trying to convince people to consider or act upon. The importance of your academic field/topic can be it! Make sure to support your piece with evidence, as shown here! It is a slightly different format than we are used to in academic literature, but still a familiar beast, and with lots more room for sources of evidence, including others news articles or OpEds, personal experience, quotes from popular individuals, and so on.
- To be sure: What are the standard counterarguments that you’d expect to hear on your thesis/argument? Address these head on to round off your piece.
- Conclusion/call to action: so now that you’ve convinced people to go out and do whatever it is that you’ve told them, what are their next steps? Donating to a worthy cause? Reading your recently published article to get more information about a topic? A simple suggestion for reconsideration of the status quo would suffice too.
In sum, I encourage you to pick a topic that you’re keen on. You’re already an expert, you little nestling, so get out there and write about it. Pick some outlets that you might target, and begin to appreciate the gist of the publication by reading some of their articles. Their website will have instructions on formatting too, or you can check out the OpEd project’s page for a nice summary on submission guidelines for 100 different outlets.
My writing is influenced by my experiences growing up internationally, being female and a minority in the U.S., and on my area of academic focus, global non-communicable disease, and thus I have written in diverse outlets. What’s the right place for your pitch? Have a personal conviction about a hot topic in the news? How about Time or The New York Times? NPR? A self-declared entrepreneur or tech guru? How about Forbes, Wired or the Wall Street Journal? Want to affect your own EM community directly? How about EM News, EP monthly, or FeminEM? Most of the traditional academic journals also have commentary or personal reflections sections. The editors will naturally have their own ideas on what they are looking for, and how best to adapt your piece, but– they need you too. Still unsure? Well, that’s a story I’d love to hear about too. I look forward to reading your pieces soon.
Watch the full FIX17 talk below!