The Association of Health Care Journalist annual conference was held in Chicago this year and in one word---Fantastic!
Thursday: I was star struck in a way only a health nerd would be---Thomas Frieden, CDC Director and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, DHHS spoke at the opening of the conference. They said nice things (insert what I cannot remember here).
Friday & Saturday: If you are unfamiliar with Unnatural Causes the I suggest you find a copy of this documentary and watch it. Tony Iton spoke on a panel about how health disparities can be incorporated and inform a journalist. Disparities and Inequities don't exist in a vacuum and neither to they appear out of nowhere. They have a context and as a journalist, it is my job to describe their intersections. Mari Gallagher, another interesting panelist, created an interesting map correlating BMI to Zip Codes which then was superimposed on a map of food deserts.
I also went to a panel about "Super-Agers." Just so you know, we are living longer but not always healthier. Imagine what that will mean for our health care system in the coming years. However, research on those that are living longer and better could help us better understand what happens to us as we grow older and how best to treat our elders (and eventually, ourselves) as we reach those Golden Years.
Outside of the fun Schwag and lovely people I met at the conference, I'd just like to say that Chicago is a fabulous city. I had the most delicious deep dish pizza from Pizza Due, visited "The Bean" in Millenium Park, took way too many pictures of tulips, and strolled around the Art Institute. I've made up my mind to return. And go to another AHCJ Conference.
As always, the Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard lecture series always provides a sense of perspective about what is really going on from the field. The final lecture featured Christine Moe, Director of the Center for Global Safe Water at Emory University. Her talk was titled, "Glittering Bathrooms that Fit Your Pocket" and I believe it was the first time in my life that I actually discussed toilets and waste in an academic setting. Let's see how "appropriate" I can be.
Moe brought up an interesting thought to ponder--Why is safe drinking water a human right and sanitation a commodity?
Of course, if I had to choose between fresh water or sanitation, my initial thought would be water because it would be one of the first things necessary to sustain my life. Does anyone ever think about what happens to that water once it gets turned into a biosolid? (one of two synonyms I picked up from the lecture, the other is excreta)
According to UNICEF/WHO, over 1.1 billion people around the world have no access to safe (clean) water. 2.6 billion are estimated to have no access to basic sanitation. In some parts of the world, women have to wait until nightfall to relieve themselves which poses a threat to their health and general safety.
We really are lucky to have a room in our homes, with a door, and a bowl that flushes. Even luckier to have people that we pay lots of money to fix the pipes when they get backed up. It's difficult to imagine a world without--but 41% live like this daily.
Luckily, Moe and others work steadily to improve sanitation the world around with innovative solutions. From solar toilets and hanging mirrors above bottled water sinks, to recycling biosolids to improve crops--their work is providing sustainable, safe, and affordable sanitation conditions.
On Saturday, April 10, I engaged in a pursuit that I never thought I would undertake. I ran.
North Greenville.University in Tigerville, SC sponsored a 5K run/walk benefiting the local Boys and Girls Club. A classmate and NGU Professor, Christine H. told me about the run after I offhandedly remarked in February that I enjoy running. Now, this is true. And I immediately signed up for the race because it benefits a good cause and gave me a reason to really begin training for the eventual half marathon I want to participate in (somewhere far, far down the road).
This mission is a part of my personal health goals for the rest of my life. Throughout the semester I've learned that one's health is inexplicably tied to other social determinants, some of which are out of our control. From what I've seen and heard, I've become impassioned to illuminate such factors. I also feel that I have the power to lead by example--which is where this running thing comes into play.
I come from a unique family. There are athletes galore and we are pretty healthy people. My 84 year old grandmother even has a gym membership (and goes daily) to the local YMCA. However, we all eat our share of fried foods, breads, and other unhealthy unmentionables that are staples in any southern diet. I see my friends already struggling with cholesterol and heart issues. Most of them are younger than me, and I'm only 23. Therefore, I ran this 5k to say that if I can do it, they can do it too.
I was immediately filled with fear when I realized I'd be running in those lovely hills. They never looked so "hilly" until I realized I was going to run in them.
I've had the opportunity to meet Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Deborah Blum, author, The Poisoner's Handbook.
Skloot's lecture on March 25th was enthralling but what I enjoyed the most and was most privileged to attend was dinner with her and my classmates in my professor's home. Not only was the food absolutely amazing but speaking with her in a more intimate setting about her work, writing, and her rise to fame offered a glimpse into another side of science writing. I highly recommend her book because it tells the story of how inexplicably intertwined the lives of people and scientific progress are. I was captivated by the story of the Lackses and how Skloot's search to unearth the truth aided the family's search to simply know more about Henrietta Lacks.
Blum's in-class visit was also just as interesting as we discussed, informally, how the government poisoned people during prohibition. During our talk, she also asked us to share what we were working on and offered really great ideas about directions we could take with our feature stories. I enjoyed her thoughts and, looking back on it, i'm surprised that I got to rub elbows with famous people!
Check back this weekend! I'll be reporting from a 5K in North Greenville, SC. Should be an interesting mix of athletics, pollen, and pain (being that I am participating and feel wholly out of shape).
The American College of Cardiology Conference last Monday in Atlanta was: intense, eye-opening, amazing, and slightly overwhelming.
And I Loved It.
Stephanie, fellow classmate, took some Excellent Photos <<--Click There I wasn't sure what to expect when I first walked down to the press room but seeing real journalists hovering over their laptops typing away was amazing. And of course, one room over was an impressive room full of food and refreshment for the media. I met amazing people and learned several lessons. The first of which is to dress comfortably, I think I put a few miles on my shoes but I am quite happy I chose comfort over style. Thanks to Professor Thomas' words of wisdom! About the people. Stephanie, Kirk and I got to meet Ed Sussman who is a freelance health/medical journalist and editor of an online site. He also is a big name in the journalism world and formerly with the Enquirer. There were also journalists from around the globe in the World Congress Center that day too. It was amazing to see how journalists are able to create stories, for a variety of news outlets, right there in that space!
I picked up a lot of swag from the conference that I went through last night--much of which I do not understand and therefore went in the recycling bin. However, the impression the expo site left on me alone was quite impressive. From technology demonstrations with real, outrageously gorgeous models, to the preserved hearts of people with cardiovascular issues---absolutely amazing. The poster sessions were my favorite because I got to talk to actual researchers who were more than eager to discuss their studies. Although I can't say that I understood the bulk of what they were discussing, I did feel that I learned the most by talking to the people really involved in the research. I also began to understand my role as a journalist and the importance I have as a mediator between the pure science and the people. Now, I can finally embrace my task.
Yes, completely unrelated in this blog post--except for the fact that they both will be mentioned.
A few weeks ago Dr. Bernard Nahlen, Deputy Global Coordinator of the President's Malaria Initiative spoke in the Voices from the Vanguard lecture series and shared quite a few interesting points about malaria. Having traveled to the African continent, I remember the daily pills I had to take and the brief sickness I scared my entire family with upon my return in which I feared that I indeed had malaria. Yes, little did I know then. However, Dr. Nahlen's lecture was insightful and not only gave a detailed background on the various species of malaria as well as the international efforts that have attempted to reduce the burden on sub-Saharan medical systems because of malaria.
One thing that the Vanguard lectures have communicated is the impact of health on economic, educational, and political systems. The cost of a sick person goes beyond mere dollars one has to spend on a medical visit or co-pays (if you are lucky enough to have insurance....or unlucky depending on how you see the situation)--the cost of a sick person correlates directly to the wealth of a nation. Sick and dying people cannot contribute to sustaining any form of economic prosperity, knowledge, or really...anything. A vicious cycle evolves because health systems become burdened and eventually fall apart. As I become more aware of the world I live in, I realize that a group of do-gooders cannot swoop in and fix everything for everyone because there are a multitude of factors at play. Despite all this, there is hope. The Voices from the Vanguard are proof of this because they continue to do their work and share it with people such as myself. By providing opportunities to hear from those actually attempting to make that change. ...just something to think about...
Now, in a matter of days I will be inundated with more information about cardiology than I believe I will be able to handle, but it shall be done! The American College of Cardiology (ACC) annual conference is in Atlanta this year and I will be covering the Monday sessions. I am a budding journalist, in every sense of the word. Dr. Murrow's mini "boot camp" was helpful but I have never been to a conference for a field of which I know next to nothing about. I already know that I will have fun because I have an official "Media" badge. This badge, and I say this in all seriousness, makes me feel pretty powerful. It is as if the words I write will be more than just groupings of letters, they will be tools of information dissemination to a public curious to know more. Maybe that's what they were the whole time. Good to know....
As a Graduate Student in the HMJ Program in Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, I am excited to share with you my experiences as a fledgling reporter for the Greene County Health Beat.