April 24, 2009

Schaffner is media’s go-to guy for health commentary

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William Schaffner, M.D., is seen frequently on a variety of news programs, locally and nationally.

William Schaffner, M.D., chair of Vanderbilt's Department of Preventive Medicine, is a tireless promoter of prevention and public health issues. Here, staff writer Craig Boerner outlines what many of his days look like.

8:15 a.m. — I've taken two sips of coffee when an e-mail arrives from a major national media organization asking for William Schaffner, M.D., to comment about precautions you should take to stay healthy when traveling.

8:21 a.m. — Schaffner replies, “Done.”

8:25 a.m. — another national outlet is on hold; they want Schaffner to do a live TV interview about the court ruling that there is no causal link between autism and vaccines. He tinkers with his schedule to accommodate the studio request for noon. Done.

8:33 a.m. — an old friend from a prominent daily newspaper has contacted Schaffner directly for a quote about salmonella. Done.

8:40 a.m. — the Infectious Disease Society of America needs Schaffner to call a reporter from a wire service about the effectiveness of this year's flu vaccine. Done.

What's even more unbelievable is that he chairs a department, mentors students, teaches a class, and consults with local, state and federal government agencies on health-related topics. Done.

Schaffner does more media in one day than most people will do in a lifetime. And it goes without saying that he is very, very good at it.

It doesn't matter if it's the New York Times or the Community College Gazette — he accommodates each and every request as yet another teaching opportunity.

His impact on global public health and disease prevention over the past four decades is immeasurable.

If Vanderbilt were to purchase the TV, radio and print advertising equivalents of what Schaffner provides in a single year, it would easily cost tens of millions of dollars.

During fiscal year 2008 Schaffner, in conjunction with VMC, was mentioned in 5,635 news stories on a wide array of public health topics. This figure is nearly 20 percent of all measurable news coverage VMC experienced last year.

More importantly, there is no dollar amount to estimate the impact Schaffner's countless interviews have on public health — the lives he impacts each year through promoting vaccination, commenting about what to avoid during food contamination scares or the way he leads by example in promoting hand washing and good hygiene.

In short, Schaffner is good for your health — and all you have to do is listen.