When Vinayak Kumar M.D., threw his hat in the ring for a four-week rotation at ABC News, he thought it would be another "out-of-the-box" experience. Dr. Kumar, an internal medicine resident at Mayo Clinic, has a history of pursuing unique opportunities. During college, he launched an international nonprofit. During his last year studying biochemistry and chemistry at Penn, he decided to take some business classes at The Wharton School — a detour that eventually led to an M.B.A. As a medical student, he spent a summer interning at the Innovation Center within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Dr. Kumar was drawn to the ABC internship, which gives resident physicians an opportunity to help shape the network's medical news, because "I thought it would be interesting," he tells us. When he applied for the internship a year ago, Dr. Kumar was promised opportunities to fact-check medical scripts and pitch health-related stories to Good Morning America. Sometimes, he was told, interns would even write an article or two for ABC.com.
But that was B.C. — before COVID-19.
"When I flew to New York, the coronavirus outbreak was just becoming a big deal," Dr. Kumar tells us. Spring break plans were being canceled. Social distancing and hand hygiene were at the top of news feeds. At ABC and other news outlets, it was suddenly all COVID-19, all the time. "This is the first time since the inception of this internship that the main issue in the news was entirely health related," Dr. Kumar says.
Which meant that he and the three other interns assigned to the ABC News health desk were kept busy. They vetted scripts for Good Morning America. Wrote articles for ABC.com. Answered questions from viewers on Twitter. And, in one especially memorable moment for Dr. Kumar, appeared on 20/20 to discuss the increasing threat posed by the coronavirus. "Hard to top that," he tells us. (His internship director, Amy Oxentenko, M.D., agreed. "How many #ProgramDirectors get this brag?" she tweeted. "Here is one of our PGY2 residents from @MayoMN_IMRES, @VinayakKumarMD, recruited from @Penn, who was on 20/20 with @ABC tonight!")
Dr. Kumar tells us he's grateful for his time at ABC and what it taught him. "I learned how incredibly, outrageously important it is to communicate health information to the public," he says. And how incredibly, outrageously difficult that task can be. "People are reading news online with half their attention span," he says. "It's not like talking face-to-face with a patient."
And talking face-to-face with patients is where Dr. Kumar wants to be. Although grateful for his time at ABC, this out-of-the-box experience hasn't changed his career plans. "My primary passion is taking care of patients," he says. "I'm looking forward to getting back to Mayo. I want to help out and do my part. I want to put all of my skills to work helping people, with my own two hands."
You can keep up with Dr. Kumar's take on health news here. Then we'd be grateful if you put your skills to work by leaving a comment below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.