When Katie Couric joined CBS Evening News as its anchor and managing
editor last September after a 15-year run as co-anchor of NBC's Today
show, she famously became the first woman to hold that solo anchor position.
Behind the scenes, she also became a driving force behind CBS's newly enhanced
health and medical coverage.
"I told [my producers], 'We must have a strong medical unit,'"
Couric says. In response, they've "really beefed it up, and I think we're
getting ready to beef it up even more."
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It's no wonder that Couric, who has evolved from local reporter to perky
morning host to prominent evening news anchor, is passionate about the subject
of health -- and her mission to raise awareness of preventive screenings and an
ever-growing list of educational resources.
Couric's life has been touched repeatedly, and at times tragically, by
serious health issues. She lost her husband, television legal commentator Jay
Monahan, to colorectal cancer in 1998, just a few months after his diagnosis.
Her sister, Virginia State Sen. Emily Couric, died in 2001 from pancreatic
cancer. And last year Couric revealed that her 86 year-old-father, John, has
long battled Parkinson's disease, the condition that damages nerve cells in the
brain and affects the body's muscle function and balance.
And so, it seems, she can't help but see health issues from both sides of
the news desk -- as a reporter intent on delivering the latest breakthroughs in
medical research to her audience, and as a wife, mother, sister, and daughter
who understands what it's like to feel overwhelmed by a diagnosis, to search
for answers and the best treatments, and to need expert guidance.
Which is one reason that medical coverage has become the cornerstone of her
CBS Evening News broadcast. And she's convinced that her viewers are
hungry for it.
"When you ask consumers what they're interested in, health and medicine
are right up there at the top," Couric tells WebMD. That's a total
transformation, she says, from the days when people knew little about their own
bodies, felt powerless to question their doctors, and rarely read medical
headlines. "I think there's been a real sea change in the way medical care
is consumed. Patient advocacy is a relatively new phenomenon, and now it's more
She says several factors have played a role in the switch: Managed care has
forced patients to learn more about their health; the Internet has made it
possible to learn about everything from tonsillitis to trauma; and the
all-powerful baby boomers -- trying to defy the inevitable -- are doing
whatever they can to combat aging to ensure that they have long, healthy,
So it comes as little surprise that Couric's viewers -- an average 7.6
million a night -- are eating up the news about their health. According to a
CBS Evening News staff member, the network receives thousands of
positive emails after health installments on the broadcast, a clear testament
to the value that viewers place on medical information. Among the health topics
recently broadcast were the decline in cancer deaths, the new cervical cancer
vaccine, brain health, supplements, and ways to beat the high cost of
prescription drugs. And in March, Couric will introduce a three-part series
called "Bedside Manner," which focuses on improving the communication
between doctors and their patients.
If Couric can make her viewers more aware of risks, educate them about
warning signs, and persuade them to get screened and tested, then she is
achieving her goal, she says.
"I did a public service announcement once. It said: Don't end up saying
'If only.' Get tested," Couric says. "My husband was 41 when he got
sick. He didn't even have a doctor. He thought -- like so many people his age
-- that he was immortal. So my message is: You could be a statistic. And you
don't have to be."