Our team of writers shared their favorite go-to questions when interviewing physicians and specialists.
Use these 12 guidelines to evolve your interviews to the next level.
- Use an alternative to the “what is?” question. Instead of general background questions, try something like: “Many readers may be unfamiliar with interventional pulmonology. How would you describe it to them?”
- Learn what physicians are seeing in practice. Ask if certain conditions are common in their area or among their patients, or if they’re noticing any trends among their patients, such as certain conditions or symptoms becoming more common.
- Address the misconceptions. Posing a question like “What are the most common misconceptions you hear about [condition name] from patients or the general public?” can yield interesting information/quotes.
- Put yourself in readers’ shoes. Consider what you want to know about a condition or a new treatment. Being curious goes a long way toward an engaging, useful article.
- Do your homework—but don’t be afraid to ask about the basics. Research the topic and structure questions to indicate to the physician that you have at least surface-level knowledge of the topic e.g., “I understand carpal tunnel syndrome is a narrowing of a structure in the base of the hand through which nerves and tendons pass. Is that a fair characterization? How would you describe this condition?”
- Find out what sets the health system apart from the pack. Try something like: “Why is [health system name] an excellent destination in your region (and, possibly, beyond) for [treatment name]?”
- Inquire about the future, if appropriate for the topic. Consider asking: “What do you envision for the future of [program/treatment name] at [health system name]?”
- Keep your antenna up for follow-up questions. Often, doctors mention something in passing that piques your interest. In their world, it’s common knowledge, but what is common knowledge for medical professionals could be something the lay public has never heard. Mining that kind of information helps readers have a fuller understanding of the topic at hand and their health.
- Ask the “most important thing” question. Close every interview, regardless of topic, type of interviewee (physician, specialist, staff member, nurse or patient), or length of article, with some variation of the following: “What’s the most important thing you’d like readers to know about [topic name] or take away from this article?”
- Don’t forget the pre-interview prep. Prior to the call or face-to-face interview, remind the physician of the article and topic and the publication/medium in which the article will appear. Then confirm his or her name, credentials, title and, if necessary, email address (for follow-up questions or to send the article for his or her approval later).
- Keep it moving. Physicians are busy, so be respectful of their time. That means being friendly and conversational but keeping small talk to a minimum, unless the physician initiates it. Being respectful of the physician’s time also means not repeating yourself. For example, if, early in the interview, the physician (unprompted) answers a question you planned to ask later in the interview, don't ask that question later simply for the sake of sticking to your list of questions; skip it.
- Pepper the interview with simple questions. These can include the following: “What is most exciting about the current state of your field today?” or “What is it about your field that has you coming back day after day, year after year, to care for patients?”