The day of my phone interview with Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the chief medical editor for NBC News, an oak tree had fallen in her Princeton, New Jersey neighborhood, cutting all the power lines. It was a big headache for the doctor, but she managed to put things in proper perspective, considering two days before she had returned from reporting on the earthquake devastation in Haiti.
On staff at the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, Snyderman wears two hats as both physician and journalist. Snyderman reported from Haiti in the days after the earthquake struck in January and then returned two months later to report on the recovery efforts. In her post at NBC News, she appears on “Today,” “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” “Dateline NBC,” and MSNBC.
On Monday, May 10, Snyderman will speak at the Women’s Division of the Jewish United Fund’s Spring Event Luncheon, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
In her interview with JUF News, Snyderman talked about reporting on the recovery efforts in Haiti, her respect for the Israeli field hospital that arrived in Haiti immediately following the quake, and what she thinks are the biggest health challenges facing the United States.
JUF News: You were in Haiti in the days following the earthquake and then you returned this spring. How has the situation in Haiti changed in the two months since the quake?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman: In January, a big artery was ruptured and now it has been sewn back together but it’s still leaking. It was so dramatic and traumatic in January with so many people dead and dying and so many amputations being done, but now it’s sadder in a way that people are trying to get back to their real lives, but there’s pain. Everyone knows of someone who has died or is hurt. The most stunning thing is that for all the amputations I witnessed and, at one hospital it was 70 a day, there is so much shame. A lot of people are hiding in tent cities.
What is the spirit of the Haitian people like?
I had never been to Haiti before January. There’s a grace and strength and a quiet elegance in a people who have so little.
You reported on the Israeli field hospital coming to Haiti immediately after the quake. Why was that important story to share?
I was stunned by the quality of what the Israelis had done. They arrived self-sufficient, not needing to rely on anyone, and they had a broad scope of things to do that became a narrow focus. [The Israelis explained] that they are trauma hospital and will be there for a short period of time. They had a very defined mission. They executed it more brilliantly than anybody else and nobody else, even now, has replicated what they did.
If we could just learn from what the Israelis did, that is the response model that should be used for every crisis in the United States. If we adopt that model, we can avoid what happened during Hurricane Katrina.
What are the biggest health problems facing our country?
They’re right out there in front of our faces. We’re fat, we still smoke too much, and there are too many people who don’t have access to very basic healthcare. The other thing that is circling out there is the misinformation that vaccines cause autism is now prompting some people not to vaccinate their children. I worry that in this country we could see measles and polio come back.
Our biggest health crises are a result of our phenomenal access to food and our phenomenal access to transportation. We don’t push ourselves away from the table and we drive around an extra 15 minutes just to get the closer spot to the mall.
A new study came out recently saying that women must exercise an hour a day just to maintain their weight. What do you think of the study?
That study was meant for people in their 30s-50s. It’s true that you need to expend more calories at this stage in life. But here’s what I hated about this study. All they did was decide that if you wanted to maintain your weight, you have to exercise for an hour a day, seven days a week. Guess what? Not doable.
My worry is if you set the bar that high, people are going to say ‘forget it, I can’t do it.’ The study never addressed gardening and housework as exercise which, a generation or two ago, was how women got their exercise.
What do you love most about what you do?
The great thing about medicine and about being a journalist is that you get to be a perennial student. Every day, I learn something new. And the cool thing is I get to explain it to people and that’s fun.
Have you spent time in Chicago before?
I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, so the Loop was my backyard. If I couldn’t live in Princeton, hands down I would move to Chicago.
For information on the JUF Women’s Division’s Spring Event 2010, call Naomi Fox at (312) 357-4877, e-mail WomensDiv@juf.org, or visit www.juf.org/women.
To donate to the Jewish Federation Earthquake Relief Fund, visit http://www.juf.org/relief_fund/.