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What to do if you fancy being a media doc

Get an agent, get trained, and don't give up your day job ­ down-to-earth advice if you want to be a star, by Dr Sarah Humphery

o you want to be a star,

or maybe not? The first thing you need to do before embarking on a career in the media is to ask why you want to do it. If it is fame, fortune and fancy cars, very few people attain that. What the media can offer is a challenge and the chance to work in a dynamic environment. You need to be up to date and enthusiastic about your subject. You must keep your message snappy and to the point.

How I got involved

I got involved in the media by chance when I was asked to do a video called The Lovers' Guide. This dealt with sexual problems, which is an area I have an interest in.

I was the presenter and medical adviser. I learnt a lot about just how much is involved in producing a video. I also discovered what hard work it is to do voiceovers in a studio for seven hours. I then went on to promote the video and I appeared on This Morning, GMTV and several radio programmes. I did a feature with Cosmopolitan, which was great fun, and later on I was offered the job as one of its new sex editors. This has been an interesting opportunity and I answer readers' sexual problems and discuss other sexual health issues in the magazine.

Protecting yourself

I don't have an agent, but if you were thinking of committing a lot of your time to a career in the media, I would advise getting one. Their fee is usually around 20 per cent, but you may be able to negotiate. You do need to value yourself and negotiate your terms of contract and money.

It is helpful to have a middle man or woman to do that for you, especially if things don't go to plan. I was told initially for any job always ask 'How much and when is the car picking me up?'. Not that money is everything.

There are lawyers who specialise in the entertainment industry. I used one for some of my contracts, as it helped me feel more confident about committing to particular job and it was cheaper than an agent.

If you feel you have a message you want to get out there, then using the media is a way to reach potentially millions of people.

You must always be aware of the programme's agenda and whether it fits with your beliefs and the image you want to portray.

You also need to check with your medical defence organisation that it covers you for the particular media work you hope to do. Another important point is that when you are in the public eye so, potentially, are your family and friends.

I changed my GMC registration to be addressed to my practice, not my home. You may have to discuss sensitive issues such as terminations, or underage contraception; some members of the public may not agree with your opinions.

Get yourself trained

There are courses you can go on to improve you presenting skills. Check your local adult education college for courses. Brochures, such as Floodlight in London, are useful.

I had one-to-one coaching on how to come across well on television and avoid getting in to trouble. I found this invaluable.

It really boosted my confidence before my first live appearance. The advice included how to deal with difficult or controversial questions, what to do if you don't know the answer or how to deal with a confrontational interviewer or guest on a show.

Don't give up your day job

A final note would be 'don't give up your day job'.

You are more legitimate giving out medical advice if you are still seeing patients or still practising medicine. Let's face it, the media can be a fickle business ­ one week you are 'Dr Popular' by the next week they may have moved on to someone else.

Overall, I find it a different and rewarding way to practise, and one that adds a bit of variety to my normal work.

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