2nd Plenary: Dr. Richard Besser

Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician and health correspondent for ABC News, was our 2nd Plenary speaker this year at the MLA conference. Ditching the traditional PowerPoint slides, Dr. Besser focused on the power of narrative storytelling to engage us. With a rich history of fascinating roles, his narratives were great for this session. In particular, he reviewed the unique circumstances of his 6-week stint as interim CDC Director in 2009. As the Obama Administration was handling its transition into office, Dr. Besser found himself covering this short period of time before final position appointments were made. Unfortunately, pandemics don’t necessarily abide these same timelines, so Dr. Besser found himself having to manage the swine flu outbreak. Despite the best laid plans and ideal scenarios, swine flu did not stay on a small isolated island near Java, but quickly became a serious issue that threatened the world. To help *accurately* inform the public, he choose to do as many direct interviews and debriefs with the public and with the media as possible. His approach was validated after a weird and distorted interview with Fox News (his assessment & Jon Stewart’s analysis [checkout Snoutbreak ’09 series], not mine).

Returning to his original theme, Dr. Besser brought us to the present and discussed how he approaches his current role as Health Correspondent for ABC News. With segments as short as 30 seconds or as long as a minute and 30 seconds, he has the challenge of creating engaging, informative pieces about current health topics. Narrative is the answer. For examples, he discussed his piece about pneumonia in Kibera, Africa and the increase rate of ACL injuries occurring in children.

Questions about his work, use of information, etc were pretty normal from this crowd. Gasps filled the room when he said UpToDate was his first tool when working as a pediatrician. While he doesn’t have much say over ABC segments, he is happy to have a Twitter conversation about information resource issues. For those interested in learning more or engaging with Dr. Besser, you can participate in the Twitter chat on Tuesdays at 1PM EST.

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