NJ imager helps give radiology a face with TV interviews

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A radiologist from New Jersey has become a regular fixture on the morning TV news show "Fox & Friends" as the program's expert on healthcare public policy. Dr. Nicole Saphier sees her appearances as an example of how radiology can raise its public profile.

Saphier began appearing on "Fox & Friends" in December after a producer for the show contacted her to speak about healthcare policy. Since then, she's appeared on the program every Thursday morning, and she will make special appearances on Thursday and Friday this week from Washington, DC, as a part of Fox's coverage of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration.

While the appearances require some juggling for Saphier to work around her busy clinical schedule, she sees them as vitally important at a time when radiologists must raise their profile to referring physicians and patients -- or face the consequences.

"We will be replaced by machines if we don't make ourselves vital to the system," Saphier told AuntMinnie.com.

The expert's expert

Born and raised in Scottsdale, Saphier completed her radiology residency and a fellowship in Arizona. She was attracted to radiology as a specialty because it touches on multiple other medical disciplines, with radiologists often viewed as the "expert's expert."

Dr. Nicole SaphierDr. Nicole Saphier

During her training, Saphier realized how much she enjoyed seeing patients. That activity isn't in the average radiologist's job description, but Saphier made an effort to see every patient, whether the person was receiving a screening or diagnostic exam, and formed relationships with many of her patients.

It was in 2014 that Saphier got her first taste of public policy after getting involved in the effort to pass breast density legislation in Arizona. A law was signed just six months after Saphier became involved, and she was hooked.

"After I spent time testifying at hearings in Arizona for the breast density law, I realized I truly have an interest in policy and public speaking on the issues I feel passionate about," she said.

Saphier moved to New Jersey later in 2014, first working in private practice at a breast imaging center and then moving on to a position as director of breast imaging at Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth (MSK Monmouth) in Middletown. But she had a dilemma: She wanted to stay in touch with all the patients and the community she had developed. So she launched a webpage and a Twitter account to maintain these connections.

On Twitter, she's made a point of highlighting the need for radiologists to adopt a higher public profile. She began using the #RadsHaveAFace hashtag to urge radiologists to "get out of the dark" and show their faces to patients.

It was Saphier's social media activities that drew the attention of "Fox & Friends" producers. They contacted her through the website, and that led to her first appearance on the show on December 6, 2016, discussing replacement strategies for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the wake of Trump's election.

Subsequent appearances have touched on policy implications for the drop in U.S. life expectancy, as well as rising healthcare costs and the nomination of Dr. Tom Price as head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Long days

Saphier said she typically receives an email from Fox producers the afternoon before she appears describing the topic she'll be discussing, giving her time to prepare for the interview in the evening. She tries to arrive at Fox's Manhattan studios by 5:30 a.m. to do the tapings, leaving at 7 a.m. to get back MSK Monmouth to start seeing patients at 8 a.m.

"It makes for a long day," she said.

Most of Saphier's interviews focus on public policy, rarely delving into clinical topics or even radiology. That's by design; Saphier said Fox producers have told her they want her to concentrate specifically on policy issues. The one exception was in the segment on life expectancy, when she pointed out that despite the overall decline in life expectancy in the U.S., cancer mortality rates have dropped due to improved screening and treatment.

Saphier admits that she's still getting used to the medium, and despite having appeared a half-dozen times, she still gets butterflies before going on air. She has never received any formal media training and doesn't get any questions in advance of the interviews.

Fitting the interviews into her busy schedule is a particular challenge, especially since she is committed to keeping her clinical responsibilities and seeing patients at MSK Monmouth (Saphier said she's yet to take any time off for her media activities). The media staff members at MSK Monmouth have been supportive of her work and have urged her to tackle more clinical topics, but she's happy to oblige with Fox's focus on public policy.

Policy issues will definitely be on tap this week, as Saphier is scheduled to appear on "Fox & Friends" in Washington, DC, on Thursday and Friday mornings for the program's coverage of the Trump inauguration. She'll take the train back to New Jersey each day to maintain her clinical schedule and see her family.

The next Sanjay Gupta?

Where does Saphier see the interviews going in the future? Could she eventually develop into radiology's own Dr. Oz or Sanjay Gupta? Saphier is open to more regular TV appearances, but she noted that Fox hasn't offered her a long-term gig.

While not every radiologist can (or should) follow Saphier's example and make a name for himself or herself on national TV, she believes that all imagers should be making an effort to raise their public profile within their community, such as with patients and referring physicians.

And social media is a great way to get started -- in fact, Saphier will be giving a one-hour tutorial on radiologists and the media at the upcoming Society of Breast Imaging/American College of Radiology Breast Imaging Symposium in Los Angeles from April 6-9.

"I truly believe we are in a sink-or-swim environment. Radiologists have to show their work in the healthcare arena," Saphier said. "Not everyone needs to be on Twitter, but at the very least you need to show that you have a face. You can't be just in your darkroom and be a name on a report."

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