Perhaps the Ultimate Communications Challenge: Informing the Nation of a President's Condition

Randy Ross
JAMA. 1987;258(16):2177. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400160023005.
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DENNIS O'LEARY, MD, had lectured in Room 101 many times. But on a spring night in Washington, DC, in 1981, he faced more than the usual inquiring George Washington University medical students. He faced the people and machines of what the Washington Post later called a "near-ugly" press corps. It was just hours after President Reagan had been shot and the nation awaited the prognosis.

In the midst of glaring television lights and blaring reporters, O'Leary, pressed into service as medical spokesperson, displayed grace under pressure. He explained the procedures being used on the President in lay terms. He held up his arm to show the site of an incision. He became a symbol of calm and reassurance.

Perhaps no physician before or since has faced greater pressure in dealing with the news media. Now, six years after that historic event, O'Leary, who left his position as dean for clinical


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