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John J. McGraw, MD, interviewed Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) on his radio show right after Rep. Wamp signed on as a cosponsor of the Americans Access to Orthopaedic Services (AAOS) Act.

AAOS Now

Published 10/1/2009
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Peter Pollack

Medicine on the radio

Orthopaedic surgeon takes to the airwaves

“If I sit in my clinic and talk to a person one-on-one, that’s a good thing,” explains John J. McGraw, MD, who produces “Doctor-to-Doctor,” a radio show aired on WJFC-AM in Jefferson City, Tenn. “But when I go on the air and tell people what carpal tunnel syndrome really is and what we can do for it, I reach several thousand people.”

For 15 minutes each week, Dr. McGraw speaks with other physicians and answers questions from listeners about their concerns. His show is prerecorded and runs on both the weekend and weekdays. The topics range from seasonal issues such as poison ivy and flu to broader subjects such as living wills and appropriate times to use the emergency department.

Growing influence
The idea for the show arose after Dr. McGraw had spent the better part of a day repeating the same lecture to a string of patients. At the time, he was vice chief of staff at St. Mary’s Jefferson Memorial Hospital, and he was also looking for ways to reach out to the community. As he describes it, the hospital’s image in the community was good, but he “wanted it to be great.”

With no radio experience, Dr. McGraw took his idea “cold” to the local station.

“I had never done anything with the radio station,” says Dr. McGraw. “I knew one of the owners and I sat down with him and I said, ‘What would you think if I could persuade the hospital to do this 15-minute show?’ He said, ‘We’d love it! We’re always looking for public service programs.’”

Since then, the show has become successful enough that the hospital, which had never advertised on the station, now sponsors the morning news program. Dr. McGraw was also asked by the partners who own the radio station if he would like to join them, and he now owns 25 percent of the station. Additionally, at least one other show has followed his lead.

“About a year ago, the local superintendent of schools asked the station, ‘Could we do a show like Dr. McGraw’s?’” he says. “They now do a 30-minute program and it’s been very successful.”

Be my guest?
Preparation time for the show varies depending on the topic and the guest. Some of Dr. McGraw’s guests will request a week or so to prepare and verify information. Others are comfortable walking in and having a spontaneous discussion.

“My cardiologist here has literally given me 10 shows off-the-cuff,” Dr. McGraw says. “He is just one of these tremendous communicators, and he speaks at a lay person’s level. He is so good that I find myself going to him every few months to ask him to do another one. We’ve discussed everything from smoking cessation from a cardiovascular standpoint to exercise.’”

Of course, not all guests are so prolific.

“A couple of physician guests just sit there and look at you like bullfrogs in a rain storm batting their eyes,” says Dr. McGraw. “And you go through this long question, and they say, ‘Yes,’ or ‘No.’ Please don’t do that!” he laughs. “Give me a little something I can use!”

In addition to interviewing local physicians, Dr. McGraw draws from his connections in the national orthopaedic community. Previous guests on the show include John D. Kelly IV, MD, whom Dr. McGraw interviewed while attending the AAOS Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, and C. Lowry Barnes, MD.

“I actually went to Dr. Barnes’ operating room to watch him do some knees,” says Dr. McGraw.

“I scrubbed with him and then I did a three-part series with him on the latest innovations.”

With all the topics that the show covers, is there any area Dr. McGraw prefers to avoid?

“We try not to get into a lot of the politics of medicine,” Dr. McGraw responds. “I’ve thought about it with everything that’s happening in Washington right now, but that’s really not the emphasis of the show.”

Dr. McGraw did, as he puts it, “stray a little” when he got a call from Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.).

“It was so interesting,” says Dr. McGraw, “because in AAOS Now, the very front page had an article on the Americans Access to Orthopaedic Services (AAOS) Bill. Rep. Wamp looked at the magazine, pulled out his Blackberry and said, ‘I signed onto it this morning.’”

Lasting impact
After two-and-a-half years of doing the show, Dr. McGraw feels that he has seen a clear improvement in the medical knowledge of the general community.

“People actually come to my office and say, ‘I heard your show about carpal tunnel syndrome, and I really didn’t know that’s what I had. Can anything be done for me?’ And my primary care doctors tell me the same thing.

“Some doctors don’t like it when patients come up and talk to them at the store,” he continues, “but I love it when patients come to me and say that they heard my show on the radio and have made a positive change in their lifestyle because of it. That really makes me feel good. I feel like, in addition to my time spent in the office and the operating room, by way of the radio I’ve been able to extend my practice, along with the practices of our other physicians in the community.”

In addition to his orthopaedic practice and his work on the radio station, Dr. McGraw is a member of the U.S. Army, holding the rank of colonel. At the time of his interview with AAOS Now, Dr. McGraw was taping shows ahead to run during a scheduled 3-month deployment (September–December 2009).

Peter Pollack is a staff writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at ppollack@aaos.org