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SLU Med Student Takes Gap Year To Serve as a Student Medical Producer on Dr. Oz Show


She’s not a doctor yet, but she helped one on TV. A Saint Louis University School of Medicine student took time off between her third and fourth year of medical school to work on the syndicated Dr. Oz Show.

Niharika Goparaju, a fourth-year medical student, moved to New York City in August 2016 for the internship. She returned to SLU after the internship ended in April to resume her studies.

Niharika Goparaju, a SLU School of Medicine student, took time off between her third and fourth year of medical school to work on the syndicated Dr. Oz Show. Submitted photo.Niharika Goparaju, a SLU School of Medicine student, took time off between her third and fourth year of medical school to work on the syndicated Dr. Oz Show. Submitted photo.

As a student producer, she worked with a unit director, researchers and two other medical students to prepare content for the show, write weekly radio scripts for iHeart radio, write health advice columns for Oprah Magazine and research information for interviews with other television programs.

“The research did not come easy at first, but we had many resources to help guide us,” Goparaju said. “We not only had access to endless medical journals, but we were able to interview organizations such as the FDA, as well as physicians, medical professionals and distinguished guests.”

Goparaju oversaw tapings of the shows and was in the studio three days a week. She appeared as a “medical expert” on two shows and did weekly Facebook Live shows with Dr. Oz to answer common health questions.

“Ever since I was a kid, medical journalism has truly fascinated me,” Goparaju said. “I vividly remember coming home as a middle schooler and regularly watching CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta explain the latest health headlines. I found it fascinating that he used media platforms to convey medical news in a clear and meaningful way.”

Goparaju has spent her collegiate life at SLU. She graduated from Saint Louis University with a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies before entering medical school. She hopes to use her experiences from the past year to effectively promote health through media.

“SLU is an institution that pushes you to be the best individual that you can be so you can give back to the community,” Goparaju said. “In my original visits here, I could feel the sense of community and the Jesuit devotion to service. I knew that I wanted those two values to define my educational experience and that’s what drew me here.”

How did you find out about the internship? 

Dr. Michael Crupain, director of medical unit at the Dr. Oz Show, emailed medical schools advertising the one-year “medical student producer” position. I received this email from a dean at our medical school and immediately knew that I had to apply for the position.

Every year, a couple of students per class take a gap year. The most common reasons for a gap year include research, an additional graduate degree (MPH or MBA) or a personal leave of absence.

When I told my pediatric mentor and medical school deans that I wanted to take a gap year to be a medical producer on television they were intrigued. School officials were fully supportive and made sure I had thought out the decision and had the appropriate resources to pursue my goal. The Department of Pediatrics also was very supporting and encouraging.

The SLU experience would not be the same without the special mentors we have here and I need to give a special shout out to (associate professor of pediatrics) Dr. Jamie Sutherell. He is such a phenomenal pediatrician, educator and role model to countless residents and students. He has motivated and inspired me to be a better individual. 

What interested you about this opportunity?

The coolest thing about the opportunity is that the position had multiple responsibilities and I could tell that the staff valued the role. The medical unit is the “chemical reactor” of the entire show as they help the producers navigate through important health issues and translate the science so it is more accessible and understandable to the viewers.

Why did you feel like it was important to do this?

I knew that the opportunity would teach me valuable lessons about life and medicine that no other clinical hospital experience could. For one thing, I wanted to learn how things worked behind the scenes of a daytime television show. Television has such a powerful impact on a population’s health and I felt like the opportunity would teach me how to use a media platform to put health information in context so viewers can make informed healthy choices.

Was it difficult to take this time off during your medical education?

In terms of knowledge, we worked on several medical topics at the show and as producers we would constantly be looking up journal articles, reviewing guidelines and refreshing our medical knowledge through textbooks. We worked very closely with Drs. Crupain and Oz, who would keep us on our toes and constantly quiz us on current medical information.

What did you learn while there that will help you as you go forward in your career?

I learned a lot at the show that will help me excel as a future physician. First, I learned how to balance evidence-based health advice while still providing entertainment value to patients. Watching Dr. Oz interact with the viewers, I also learned the importance of empathy and compassion in patient care.

In addition, I learned how to effectively communicate with patients. As a medical student, I initially struggled to explain health information to patients. The show taught me how to convey information in key points, avoiding excessive information, medical jargon, and how to explain complex medical topics with animations, analogies or models. Finally, working with producers, celebrities and physicians, I learned how to work with a variety of professionals towards the same goal.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.