Published March 1, 2021
Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, PhD, senior associate dean for health policy, has become the trusted voice of WBFO-FM on all things related to COVID-19.
Last March, as Western New Yorkers — and the world — came to grips with the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, WBFO news director Dave Debo — like media members everywhere — contemplated how best to explain the virus and its impact to his radio audience.
“As COVID came along, I was looking for someone who could answer listener questions about the pandemic,” Debo recalls. “I’ve used Dr. Nielsen in news stories for several years and even had her as a regular guest on call-in talk shows explaining health care reform. She’s so conversational and yet authoritative. She was really the first person that came to mind.”
Nielsen’s radio interviews about COVID-19 on WBFO debuted March 26, 2020, and episodes have been broadcast nearly every Thursday since. They attract as many as 10,000 listeners per hour, airing at approximately 5:45, 7:45 and 9:45 a.m.
Topics have ranged from what Nielsen calls the “unconscionable” hoarding of chloroquine early on and a discussion of “VIP syndrome” when former President Donald Trump was being treated for the virus, to the issues with vaccine distribution and clear explanations about the arrival of new variants in Western New York.
“Morning Edition” host Jay Moran, who conducts the interviews with Nielsen, says they coordinate the topics to cover each week, which sometimes come about from listener or staff member questions.
“From my perspective, it's worked out great,” Moran says. “Dr. Nielsen is a tremendous asset. If she doesn't have the immediate answer to a question, she researches it before we tape the conversation and really seems to enjoy the challenge.”
Like many of her physician colleagues, Nielsen, a clinical professor of medicine, sees the interviews as an opportunity to inform the public about topics that can be confusing. When she feels it’s necessary, she will verify information with the infectious disease experts in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“I really enjoy doing it,” she says, noting that she strives to be as current as possible. “It’s making sense out of the latest developments with the pandemic. My whole area is health care delivery and health care policy, and this is health care policy in action.”
Nielsen, a member of the National Academy of Medicine, is one of the nation’s leading experts on health care policy and health care reform. Formerly the president of the American Medical Association, Nielsen completed a two-year appointment as a senior adviser at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Nielsen’s segments are posted online the same day they air. The entire collection is available and has received hundreds of page views.
In addition to her regular stint on WBFO, Nielsen is a source for numerous national and local media outlets, including The Buffalo News and WBEN-AM.