This physician-journalist says good communication is more important than ever now.
For Shamard Charles MD’17, MPH, the path to medical journalism started on a basketball court in the Dominican Republic, when he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
“I felt a snap and heard a pop and I knew it was bad,” says Charles, who was then a fourth-year medical student. He was there with a Brown program in which students interested in internal medicine work with underserved communities. The son of Haitian immigrants, he also wanted to spend time on the same island.
The rupture was bad enough that Charles had to fly home for surgery. He ended up needing two operations and worked hard not just to graduate, but to walk at graduation.
“I had a lot of low points and dark moments, so I started to write. It sort of saved my life,” he says.
Charles shared his writing with friends, who thought he might have a future in medical journalism. He reached out to Susan Wagner, senior coordinating producer at NBC News, to see if she could be a writing mentor.
Thus he became an NBC health correspondent and United Nations Global Press Fellow, reporting on everything from polio in Africa to broken heart syndrome.
“I always had this narrow view of what a physician does,” Charles says. “I knew about some of the more social aspects of medicine but I had not had the time to explore that deeply.”
While he worried what would happen to his clinical training if he took a journalism path, he wanted to take the opportunity presented to him, and knew he could always go back if it didn’t work out.
Charles still contributes to NBC News and has done spots on CNBC, but he’s “branched out,” he says. An assistant professor of public health at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, he writes for the website Very Well Health and is a regular contributor to theGrio, a publication focused on Black culture. “It’s an opportunity to narrow in on communities of color, and as a physician of color that’s really meaningful and fulfilling for me to do,” he says about writing for theGrio.
He’s created his own media venture as well: a health podcast called Heart over Hype. He’s produced more than 20 episodes on a range of topics, from COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy to doctors’ roles in politics to cancer prevention.
“I’m trying to reach millennial and Gen Z people who want to learn more about their health but don’t quite know how to do it or where to go,” he says. “I try my best to have material that’s easily digestible. I want to make sure I’m meeting people where they are.”
He also hopes to confront disinformation, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s important for me to really have fact-based information but do it in a way that people can actually understand,” Charles says.