Media & Communication Department
Career of the Month
The Department is proud to feature monthly profiles of Media & Communication Department Alums, describing their individual career paths and sharing tips with students on how to plan for their own future careers. Profiles focus on the wide range of careers that our liberal arts oriented program has helped to launch.
This month the spotlight is on Health Journalism with Laurie Tarkan .
Laurie Tarkan '84
Laurie Tarkan is not a doctor, but she has helped countless people make important medical decisions--and best of all, she does it right from home. Laurie is a freelance health writer whose work is published in magazines like Health and Parenting, as well as The New York Times. She has also authored several books, including My Mother's Breast: Daughters Face Their Mothers' Cancer, a psychological exploration of the daughters of breast cancer sufferers.
The best part of working as a health writer, Laurie says, is the gratification of knowing that her pieces really help her readers. All the hard work seems worth it "when you get that one letter or email from someone saying, 'I'm so glad I read this article, it really helped me,' or 'I went to my doctor and it turns out I have what you wrote about.' It really feels like you're making a difference in someone's life."
Being a health journalist has also given Laurie an edge by positioning her within a specific niche, something that she recommends to other aspiring journalists. "People know me as a health writer, so if they're looking for a health writer, they look for me. I think it's a little trickier if you are a generalist, because people don't think of you for one kind of topic."
But succeeding in this business takes more than just a specialization; aspiring writers, Laurie says, also need perserverance. As a freelance journalist, Laurie must always be thinking about and pitching her next idea, which can make the job a bit stressful. Laurie remembers pitching idea after idea to The New York Times, all of which were rejected until she finally got her first break with the prestigious newspaper. "A lot of people today, especially journalism students, are blogging, which is great practice for writing. If they can't write for publications or a website, they can just start their own blog."
Before she became a published journalist, Laurie was a Muhlenberg student, who, like many of us, had to do a little searching in order to figure out which career was wright for her. While at Muhlenberg, Laurie held two internships, one in a public relations internship at the Lehigh Valley Hospital, and the other a journalistm internship at The Bethlehem Globe. Though both internships were good experiences, the newspapter internship was particularly illuminating for Laurie, as it helped her discover her talent and passion for journalism, and gave her a portfolio of her work to bring to her first job, an "invaluable" asset for a recent college graduate.
As important as it is to learn practical job skills, Laurie also emphasizes that students should be taking advantage of Muhlenberg's quality course catalog: knowing how to operate the latest computer program is important, but so is learning about classic literature. "I think it's important to be exposed to a lot of different writers; it's really good for your writing. It's important to have a depth to your knowledge about history and literature to draw from when you're writing. A lot of the more practical aspects are things you can learn on the job. But once you're out of college, you don't really take literature classes anymore." Though she writes specifically about health and wellness, Laurie Tarkan sees the value in a well-rounded education, something that Muhlenberg students can bring with them to any job they pursue.
This alumna profile was written by Anna Whiston '12.