Interviewing medical specialists can be intimidating. You’re dealing with some of the brightest minds in the world. These people have completed decades of study, research and training. They’re generally time-poor, busy and in-demand. They also know a lot more about their specialty area than you do!
So, if you’re required to conduct an interview with a medical specialist, how can you ensure you get the most useful information and commentary?
Firstly, take heart in knowing that specialists spend a great deal of time explaining complex conditions, treatments and medical terminology to patients with little or no scientific understanding.
So you don’t need to appear like you know everything about what they do. They’re not going to get frustrated if you don’t understand a key term, health topic or concept.
Having said that, you should make the effort to research their specialty area – so you can ask the right questions and follow their responses. More on that later.
I’ve interviewed many medical specialists over the years, and I’ve found the more prepared I am, the better the interview goes.
If you’re not properly prepared, you may not get the most useful answers. And, the last thing you want is to have to contact the specialist again for a second interview. Sometimes it can take weeks to arrange an initial interview!
Why would you be interviewing medical specialists?
As a medical writer, you may be required to interview specialists and physicians for various types of projects – not only for news and feature articles.
In the past, I’ve interviewed specialists for projects like:
- website copywriting for medical practice websites
- biography writing for groups of specialists
- news articles for medical news websites
- feature articles for company and corporate newsletters
- background research for marketing materials.
How to make the most of your specialist interview
Some of my interviews have gone very well – yet others haven’t. The main reason why I don’t get the information I need comes down to lack of preparation – as well as interviewer confidence in both the subject matter and interview questions.
With that in mind, here are my 10 top tips for ensuring a great medical specialist interview.
When I do all these things, I’m more likely to secure great answers that help me to produce quality content that meets the needs of my client or employer.
Before the interview
1. Research specialists in advance
Take the time to learn about your interviewee’s professional background. Read medical journal articles they have written, and learn about the hospitals they operate in. Ensure you can pronounce their names properly.
2. Write your questions in advance
Know exactly why you’re interviewing medical specialists and what type of content you want to get out of the interview. Are you writing a promotional article or do you want a unique perspective for a news article? Write specific, thorough questions that encourage a detailed response as opposed to a yes/no answer.
3. Show an understanding of the specialty area
While you don’t need a medical degree to interview neurosurgeons, you should show an understanding of their profession. They will also be looking for trust and reassurance that you can accurately represent their comments and quotes in your writing. If the topic or subspecialty area is completely unfamiliar to you, spend some time reading up about it.
During the interview
4. Remain friendly and professional
Welcome them to the interview and thank them for taking the time to chat to you. Start by reaching out to them personally – whether that’s a quick comment about the weather or a question about what they’re doing today. Acknowledge them as people.
5. Take notes AND record the interview
I find it’s best to record your interview but take notes at the same time. This way, you have a backup of your interview in case you lose one version. Also, depending on how fast you type, you may miss important points if you only take notes. Don’t forget to tell the specialist that you’re recording the interview, too.
6. Be open and flexible
Even though you’ll have pre-planned questions, listen to their responses carefully in case they say something that takes the interview in a new direction. This is where understanding their specialty area helps a lot, too. You’ll be able to keep up with their answers and feel confident that you can ask questions spontaneously if they say something interesting or unexpected.
7. Conduct your interview efficiently
Medical specialists are short on time, so try and conduct the interview promptly. They’ll appreciate your efficiency.
8. Thank the specialists for their time
Acknowledge the fact they have taken time out of their busy day to speak with you, and thank them for it.
9. Confirm whether they want to view your content before it’s published
In my experience, some specialists do want to see the content before you publish it. In fact, if you’re writing about a complex area – which is probably going to be the case if you’re interviewing a medical specialist – it can actually be a great idea for them to check your work. They can ensure you have accurately represented their comments as well as any facts about their profession – including equipment names, device names and procedures, for example.
After the interview
10. Follow up
Send a follow-up email once again thanking them for their time. Provide either a copy of your final draft for them to check and approve, or a link to the published piece for their reference. Forge a relationship with them in case you need to call on them in the future for another project.
Do you have any other tips about interviewing medical specialists?