TV show offers medical advice, answers questions

Michelle Moriarity

In Rarig Center’s Studio E student crew members giggled and took their places behind television cameras as Dr. Greg Vercellotti, host of “Health Talk and You” cleared his throat, sipped a mug of water and practiced his closing monologue.
“Thank you, but we’re out of time,” said Vercellotti, senior associate dean of education at the University’s Medical School. “We were unable to take all of your questions, but I hope you found this discussion of sinusitis useful. With summer just around the corner we’ll be out in the sun more.”
Vercellotti stopped, turned to floor director Andrea Hendricks, a theater arts senior, and asked “Could we say more there? It seems a bit colloquial.”
This is the typical pre-airtime scene from “Health Talk and You,” a weekly call-in show that airs live each Tuesday from Rarig Center. The program consists of a panel of experts from the University medical community gathering to answer viewers’ questions about the health topic of the week.
For this week’s topic, sinusitis — inflammation of the sinuses — Vercellotti’s guests included Malcolm Blumenthal, head of the University’s Allergy Clinic; Jane Skorina, a Minneapolis otolaryngologist; and Frank Rimell, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University.
A committee comprised of University medical and media specialists select local medical experts to appear each week and share their expertise with viewers.
“The great thing is that they know who the best candidates are,” said associate producer Jay Hopkins, an informational representative for University Media Resources. “They know who the experts are in the medical field.”
University students play a significant role in the show’s production. Medical and health science students answer viewers’ calls, format the questions and deliver them to the studio during the broadcast. Meanwhile, theater arts and film studies students work as technical crew members.
The program, in fact, is the only opportunity for students to gain TV production experience on campus.
“There are so many opportunities in the cities to volunteer in film,” said crew member Anna Sherwood, a junior in film studies. “But it helps a lot if you’ve already had experience. It helps a lot if you start out somewhere like here.”
Hopkins said despite the fact that the program is in its 11th season, its producers can still come up with different topics than other years. For example, last week’s topic was smoking cancers, or forms of cancer besides lung cancer that smokers can develop.
The program addresses other sensitive issues including domestic violence, impotence and eating disorders.
Executive producer Mary Kelley credits the University of Minnesota-Duluth for the original concept. Twelve years ago Duluth began a similar show titled “Doctors On Call” that experienced great local success. Kelley and her staff decided to copy this concept, with the help of their Duluth colleagues.
The result: “It keeps growing and growing each year,” Kelley said.
Five thousand to 10,000 viewers tune in to the live broadcast each Tuesday. Combined with audiences of Thursday and Saturday reruns, the total weekly viewership is about 25,000.
In addition, producers have recently added a prerecorded introduction to each program that summarizes the day’s topic.
Plans on the horizon call for a satellite hookup to expand viewership statewide.
Vercellotti says the program’s goal is to promote a healthy lifestyle by acting as an educational resource to the University community.
“Health Talk and You” airs live at 7 p.m. every Tuesday on Channel 17.