A Medical Journalist Insider
Kay Miller Temple
By Marv Leier on
Dr. Kay Miller Temple is not your typical web writer for the Center for Rural Health (CRH) at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences (UND SMHS). Like her colleagues, Miller Temple writes and edits web-based articles for the Rural Health Information Hub (RHIhub), but the journey she took to becoming a rural health journalist is very different than the path taken by the other health writers at the CRH.
After more than 30 years as a practicing physician, Miller Temple decided to pursue a degree in journalism. Why would someone trade in a stethoscope for a pen? Miller Temple says it wasn't an impulse decision. She sought out career coaching to make sure she had a reasonable perspective on such a dramatic change.
I recognized that if I wanted to write for the public, I had to have credibility.
"No one could escape the very obvious fact I was a non-traditional student," Miller Temple said. "I recognized that if I wanted to write for the public, I had to have credibility."
Miller Temple grew up on a farm near Cresbard, South Dakota, population 103. Like the others in her family, Miller Temple loved to read. She also enjoyed the vastness and the freedom of growing up in a rural area. On the family farm, she learned the value of hard work. She was responsible for the family garden and also helped around the farm by driving truck during harvest and helped with putting up hay.
"My brother still farms the original homestead ground," she said. "I go back a lot. It's my favorite place."
Miller Temple studied biology at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After graduation, she was accepted into the University of South Dakota School of Medicine where she studied with the hope of becoming a family doctor in a rural area. While doing her medical school rotations, she realized she wasn't very fond of delivering babies or doing minor surgical procedures. Fortunately, there was a new specialty program at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and the Maricopa Medical Center in Arizona that combined internal medicine and pediatrics. It seemed to be a perfect fit for her.
"It was great to have been their first resident, in one of the first med-peds residencies in the country," Miller Temple said. "I had terrific training."
Miller Temple worked as an internist with Mayo's Arizona campus. It was supposed to be a one-year commitment, but she ended up staying for 15 years. She said being a member of the Mayo organization's care delivery team was a memorable experience. She later became the chair of the utilization management (UM) committee, where she studied rules and regulations and translated them to her colleagues and other healthcare professionals. As the UM chair, she often wrote about healthcare instead of doing healthcare. She said she enjoyed the position, especially the writing, teaching, and speaking that work involved, but she knew that eventually she would have to rotate out of that role. As she contemplated the transition to the next chapter in her life, she decided to combine her background in medicine and her love of writing into a hybrid career.
Arizona State University had the Cronkite journalism school with a medical student master's path, so the concept of a physician journalism student wasn't too much of a stretch.
"Arizona State University had the Cronkite journalism school with a medical student master's path, so the concept of a physician journalism student wasn't too much of a stretch," Miller Temple said.
Miller Temple said her husband and her medical colleagues were supportive of her aspiration to become a journalist, but her family was uncertain as to why she would want to become a writer. They have since become fans.
"They like to read and share what I write now," Miller Temple said. "And they realize that I'm still a doctor, just a doctor who happens to write."
After Miller Temple finished her master's program, a job in Grand Forks, North Dakota, at the RHIhub and CRH at the UND SMHS caught her eye. She felt her journalism skills and her experience as a physician in a rural setting made her an "insider" for the position. RHIhub Director Kristine Sande also knew Miller Temple's credentials made her a good, but unusual fit at the CRH.
"I was shocked to see the MD behind Kay's name on her application," Sande said. "Honestly, her CV (curriculum vitae) seemed too good to be true."
Sande says Miller Temple is a great addition to the RHIhub team because of her clinical experience and knowledge.
Our whole team benefits daily by being able to pick the brain of someone with so much real-world expertise.
"Our whole team benefits daily by being able to pick the brain of someone with so much real-world expertise," Sande said.
Miller Temple said it's been about a year since her last shift as a healthcare provider, and although she doesn't miss the day-to-day routine of formal care, she does see some parallels with her current work.
"Primary care is whole person care, care that centers in asking lots of questions and explaining lots of answers," Miller Temple said. "As a rural health writer, I'm still asking questions and still explaining answers. I'm just not sitting physically with patients and families."