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INTRODUCTION Jennifer Riekert, M.B.A

Vice President of Communications and Strategic Initiatives

coronavirus. With his years of public health knowledge and his calm and reassuring delivery, Dr. Amler established himself and NYMC in mainstream media as a trusted source of information on this evolving new virus. Weeks later, when the virus took root in the United States, one of the first hotspots was right in our proverbial backyard—a few miles away from the NYMC campus—in Westchester County. As time went on, our local hospitals became overwhelmed and health care providers were faced with unprecedented ethical dilemmas due to limited resources. I was able to arrange interviews between our faculty experts and top top-tier media outlets. Sitting in on these interviews, I listened as our experts needed to not only answer the reporter’s questions, but also educate them on complex medical, ethical and public health issues. However, in several instances, when the final piece went to print, an hour-long interview resulted in a one-line quote.

In early January, I was in a meeting with a faculty member from New York Medical College (NYMC), when I casually mentioned my plans for an upcoming trip abroad. She looked pensive, then after several seconds cautioned that I may want to hold-off on any unnecessary international travel. As an infectious disease expert, she was concerned about a novel coronavirus outbreak in China that appeared to cause pneumonia and was rapidly spreading. Perhaps sensing my resistance to canceling my plans, my colleague asked how much I knew about the influenza pandemic of 1918 and proceeded to tell me she was very concerned that this virus in China had pandemic potential. As the vice president of communications and strategic initiatives for NYMC, I immediately recognized this as a true public health concern and knew that our faculty experts were uniquely qualified to inform and advise the public. I called my colleague Robert W. Amler, M.D., dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at NYMC and former CDC medical epidemiologist, who confirmed the virus’ potential deadly reach and agreed to allow me to pitch him as an expert to speak in the media. While most of the world carried on with their regular routines, unaware of the imminent threat that would soon have a devastating impact on so many people in the coming weeks, I reached out to journalists and editors to encourage them to cover the novel


Through this experience, I realized that the media had tremendous power to deliver critical information on medical and health care issues. Yet, the public could be better served if able to hear that information directly from medical experts, rather than after it has been translated and altered through the lens of a journalist. In addition to continuing to present our experts as resources to the media, the Office of Public Relations at NYMC worked with College leadership and faculty to hone the craft of editorial writing so that they could present information to the public with their words fully intact. With NYMC’s ground-level view of this novel coronavirus, which continued to surge, it became clear that future conversations would have to be centered around what is now known as COVID-19—and I made the strategic decision to drive that conversation. By gathering several experts who could lend their voice as editorialists in the news, they would be given a platform to share their expertise and thoughts in an unedited format. As more members of the NYMC community stepped up from different backgrounds and different thought groups, our expert editorialists began delving into topics well beyond health care. We tackled everything from public health, research on vaccines, bioethics and religious values, politics and COVID-19’s impact on business and the economy. These thought pieces reached hundreds of thousands of readers throughout the United States, directly shaping the public’s view, helping to make sense of what seemed to be a nonsensical reality of seemingly endless loss, illness and economic stagnation.