"I often compare asking a doctor about health policy to asking an auto mechanic about transportation policy. Maybe they have something useful to say, but it is generally not from what they learned in their training program," he says.
Peter Fiske, author of the recent article "Unleash Your Inner Dummy" on the website of the journal Nature, says health journalists are better off without an M.D. because there is value to being a "dummy."
"In fact, a close friend of mine covered the health beat for the San Jose Mercury News," he says. "By being a 'dummy'—i.e., a lay person—I think she was in a better place to frame the technical topics she was covering in terms that her reader could grasp and appreciate."
Regardless of whether medical schools' collaborations with journalism programs are a good option for aspiring health reporters, some doctors say that journalism and communications skills can benefit medical students.
[Learn why Greek and Latin skills may help M.D. applicants.]
"[C]ommunicating with patients, colleagues, and the community is really central to what we do, and an increasingly recognized deficiency," says Adam Wolfberg, a Boston-based physician and professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, who reported for Newsweek before attending Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Holtz, the former AHCJ board member, agrees that doctors could afford to be better communicators. "There are piles of studies indicating the gaps between what doctors say and what patients hear and understand," he says.
Peter Polack, a Florida-based ophthalmologist who authors the blog Medical Practice Trends, adds that doctors often have to write abstracts, peer-reviewed articles, and applications for grants.
"[M]any of the issues that physicians face in the political arena, such as healthcare reform and reimbursement, see them at a distinct disadvantage, because they don't necessarily communicate their position effectively to the general public," he says.
Oransky, of Reuters Health, says he sometimes wonders if medical students and residents should have to endure being poked and prodded as patients for a week.
"It's probably more about empathy than specific communication techniques," he says.
Searching for a medical school? Get our complete rankings of Best Medical Schools.