Pat Anstett began her journalism career when she took a job in the women’s department of Chicago Today, a daily tabloid.
That was 43 years ago.
The last half of her career has been spent as a health and medical journalist at the Detroit Free Press.
She’s retiring at age 65.
Anstett talks of her most memorable story, what she enjoyed about her job, and gives advice to health journalists in this Q&A.
YEARS COVERING HEALTH:
HOW THE BEAT CHANGED OVER YOUR CAREER:
Medical writing was a turn I took at age 42, after I had the first two of my three children. I found that indeed I was capable of learning new, even complicated things. I loved medicine, everything about it.
RECENT STORIES INCLUDED:
- Pediatric sedation controversies
- Health exchange developments in Michigan
- An ADHD day camp for boys, story and web chat
FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB:
My beat taught me so much about our nation’s health, as well as my health and the health insurance industry, which gave me an eye to one of the most powerful stories in America at a critical time.
LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB:
The blurring of lines between editorial and advertising, as newspapers get desperate for every print ad and Web dollar. We need to be honest as an industry to point out this problem and help provide guidance on how some members handle these issues.
STORY YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF:
In the early 1990s, I got a tip from an insider at the University of Michigan that Dr. Joseph Oesterling, chief urologist, had scammed the university on expenses and pocketed money from prostate cancer foundations he created. He used the money to build himself a mighty fine mansion. Through FOIA, I and reporter Maryanne George, who was a cub reporter I edited while we both were at the Michigan State News, got reams of information about his expense records showing he double- and triple-billed the university for expenses drug and medical device companies gave him. He resigned in disgrace but only served a brief stint of community service.
We ran a big story including a photo of the house that my newspaper got by hiring a helicopter (with our lawyer’s OK) and shooting it from above. (The house was on a private road with a chain fence that said no trespassing). Turns out the picture we ran was of the back of the house, but that entrance looked so posh it was taken as the front entrance. I used the photo in speeches and the back entrance comment always got good laughs.
The story opened my eyes to the poor oversight of medical professionals by most states. For the rest of my career, I wrote about disciplinary issues and lack of oversight of the professions. Oversight of medical professionals is cursory at best today and remains an important story for journalists to cover.
PAST JOURNALISM JOBS:
Chicago Today, reporter; Chicago Sun-Times, reporter; Congressional Quarterly, reporter; National Observer, summer copy editor and freelance writer; Features & News Inc., a Chicago-based news service run by Colleen and Bob Dishon; Detroit News, rewrite, night city editor, day slot, projects team editor. Detroit Free Press: 30 years of employment, the first 8 spent as an editor in features and metro.
YOUR ADVICE FOR YOUNG HEALTH JOURNALISTS:
I always told myself to spend each year with a couple new mini-beats. Then learn it from the ground up. Go after all the stories and build your base of expertise. I picked a wide range of new beats to learn within my beat. One year it was health insurance; another, the brain/neurology. Others included spinal cord injury; HIV/AIDS; community health; menopause; genetics.
I got my passport this week, which is the official document for my new Entirely Enjoying It Too Much retirement club.
I have worked 50 years except for three maternity leaves. I am going to Costa Rica with my daughters in late November; plan to take a master gardening class; and play more tennis.
My general plan is to be healthier and happier.
IF YOU WEREN’T A JOURNALIST YOU’D HAVE BEEN:
I have always wanted to be a journalist so now I will find out whatever other skills and interests I have.
I promise you won’t see me on “Dancing with the Stars.”
WHAT YOU’RE READING:
“Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House.” This is an encyclopedic but fascinating account of housekeeping that my husband purchased for himself (I won’t go there…) about everything about the home and everything I haven’t done. I hope it has a chapter on cobwebs.
ONE THING YOUR COLLEAGUES DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU:
Beyond that I have cobwebs in my house?
ONE THING YOU’D HAVE AHCJ MEMBERS KNOW?
I love the list-serve discussions. We have some great people in the organization.
10 Health Journalism Tips from Veteran Health Writer Pat Anstett