November 15, 2017

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can sign up here.

Good news – journalists aren't the only ones who feel like the world is moving way too fast. Bad news – a lot of other professions have already been through huge culture shifts and mostly adapted.

Many local newsrooms are behind. 

It's not because they don't get social media or analytics or how to engage with community. And it's not because they're still clinging to the idea that people (and advertisers) will come back around to print, or that benevolent billionaires in each city and town will step up and magically make things okay. 

But a big challenge for newsrooms that once worked toward that afternoon or evening deadline is adapting to the idea that the world is always on now, and so we have to be, too.

We've spent the past several weeks exploring what that means for ourselves, our days and our work. Last week, I included five really simple steps I've seen newsrooms around the country make to get there. 

This week – a good reminder that lots of people have to learn to adapt to new ways of doing things. And in the case of Shea Smith, who's studying to be a physician assistant at UC Davis in Sacramento, it's an exciting, life-changing challenge. 

I spoke with Smith, who previously worked in communications, via email about what she's learning, how she's doing it and why she'll never be a morning person. 

Hare: Did you always want to be a Physician Assistant?

Smith: No, I am actually a career changer. I was drawn to medicine after being diagnosed with a rare disease that ate away the bones in my face and required extensive surgery to rebuild my jaw. This disease was so rare Google didn’t even know what it was. This inspired me to educate and advocate for other patients in my situation, and I helped more than 100 patients from around the world navigate their diagnosis and recovery. Eventually, I felt limited by my ability to advise and knew that the best way to advocate for patients was to be on the frontlines providing excellent care.

Hare: How did you decide to go to medical school?

Smith: I knew it was my only option to achieve what I wanted out of life. It was tough to leave an established career, but my draw to medicine was bigger than myself. I had to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and trust that this was the path I was meant to be on. No matter what obstacle came my way, I had to trust that it would only make me stronger.

Hare: What did you think medical school and then being a PA would be like before you signed up?

Smith: I thought medical school was going to be really hard, competitive, scary, and grueling.

Hare: What’s it actually like?

Smith: I’ve found that this path is challenging, but in the best sense. Every day I am being pushed to give more and stretch a little further than what I thought I was capable of. It is hard and exhausting, but it is also amazing. The best part is being surrounded by amazing people who are so willing to give time, money, and years of their lives as we work toward a common goal of helping others. I’ve never been surrounded by a better group of people.

Hare: This month in Local Edition, we’re talking about learning to work in a news cycle that never stops. Some of the things other newsletter guests have talked about are physically adjusting their days and reframing how they think about the process and the work itself. What have you had to change so far in medical school?

Smith: Medicine changed everything in my life. I sold everything I owned, moved across the country for school, and now spend both my days and nights studying or volunteering in student run clinics. Most importantly, medicine is changing me. I’m a different person than I was six months ago. I think in a different way and approach situations with a new perspective. It’s not often that you witness, in real time, changes within yourself. Everything is on fast forward.

Hare: What do you think you’ll have to do to stay sane once you’re a PA?

Smith: Taking time for myself. I care about the people in my life, making deadlines, patients, lab orders, colleagues, family – but I cannot properly care for them, if I am not properly taking care of myself. Even if it is just five minutes to breathe and find my center. Time spent in nature, with friends/family and with dogs will always leave me with a smile on my face.

Hare: Have there been things that you haven’t changed or held on to?

Smith: I will never be a morning person. No matter how hard I try I will continue to quietly hate every moment I am awake before 8 a.m.

Hare: What advice do you have for people trying to adapt to a different world than the one they’re used to?

Smith: Keep pushing and trust that the uncomfortable feelings that come along with change are temporary and leading you to growth.

Thank you, Shea, for talking with us! Next week, just before you fill up with nap-inducing food, we’ll wrap up this conversation on learning to work in an always-on world.

In the meantime, ProPublica got a huge response to embedding in local newsrooms. The Washington Post has a good look at many of the factors hurting local news. Want to start your own ONA Local group? Here’s how to get started. And early next year, Poynter’s News University has a webinar on public records.  

Special thanks to the wonderful Shanna DiNobile, who not only gives me advice on being a new dog owner, but introduced us to Shea this week.

See you next week! 

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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