Monthly Archives: January, 2014

Happy 94th birthday, Joan Hollobon!

Joan Hollobon at her 90th birthday party

Joan Hollobon
at her 90th birthday party

Yesterday was the 94th birthday of Joan Hollobon, who some among you may remember as the Globe and Mail‘s medical reporter from the early 1960s until her retirement in 1985.

Joan, whose career spanned the founding of Medicare to the early days of the AIDS pandemic, was also a founder of the Canadian Science Writers Association, which awarded her its first lifetime achievement award in 2010.

I’m posting this late because I had lunch and spent the afternoon with her yesterday. She’s become quite frail, but remains interested in the health-care system and medical reporting. And she still doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

How to dry your hands with one paper towel

Handwashing stories are among the hardy perennials of medical journalism, as handwashing is among the leading exhortations of infectious disease specialists: It’s not done enough, it’s not done correctly. I understand the importance of handwashing — I learned about Ignaz Semmelweis from a children’s TV show back when I was a child — but I can’t help feeling that some of the handwashing messages involve a bit of victim-blaming.

Then along comes Joe Smith, a lawyer and sometime state politician in Oregon. In 2012, he gave a TEDx talk about how to dry your hands after washing them in a public washroom using only one paper towel, even the flimsy recycled kind, thus saving millions of pounds of paper towel a year. Continue reading →

Sifting truth from rumour on social media

book.cover.smallThe European Journalism Centre (EJC) has launched The Verification Handbook, a resource for journalists, providing guidelines for sifting through information on social media during a crisis.

“In a crisis situation, social networks are overloaded with situational updates, calls for relief, reports of new developments and rescue information,”  the EJC said in releasing the book online. “The handbook prescribes best practice advice on how to verify and use this information provided by the crowd, as well as actionable advice to facilitate disaster preparedness in newsrooms.”

For the moment, the handbook is available online only, but print, ePub and free PDF versions will be available “soon,” the EJC said.

Obituary: Dr. M. Therese Southgate


Dr. M. Therese Southgate
 Norris McNamara

Although it occurred on 22 November, we felt it was important to note the death of Dr. M. Therese Southgate, best known as cover editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Dr. Southgate, 85, died at her home in Chicago after a short illness.

She earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry at what is now the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., and worked for a time for a magazine covering the chemical industry before deciding to go to medical school, according to her obituary in the Chicago Tribune. She graduated from the Marquette University School of Medicine (now Medical College of Wisconsin) in 1960, and completed a rotating internship at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco before joining the JAMA staff in 1962.

Her first position was as senior editor — the first time a woman had held that job. Two years later, JAMA editors made the “bold and unprecedented decision” to feature fine art on the journal’s cover. In 1974, Dr. Southgate was promoted to deputy editor and began to select the art and write an accompanying essay, according to JAMA’s report of her death. Continue reading →

‘Dr.’ style

ManReadingNewspaperPeople who have earned MDs (and British equivalents), PhDs, DVMs, DDSs, ScDs, DCs, JDs and other similarly advanced academic credentials all want to be called “doctor,” with the accompanying “Dr.” honorific or courtesy title.

But publications — daily newspapers, professional magazines and journals — have different policies on who is entitled to the “Dr.” title, with the result that some people feel hard done by when they’re left out. Continue reading →

A broken neck brings home primary care shortage to former NEJM editor

Dr. Arnold Relman

Dr. Arnold Relman

Last June, a week after his 90th birthday, Dr. Arnold Relman fell down a flight of stairs at home and broke his neck. And nearly died.

During his arduous recovery, which he documents in a compelling article in the New York Review of Books, “I learned how it feels to be a helpless patient close to death. I also learned some things about the U.S. medical care system that I had never fully appreciated, even though this is a subject that I have studied and written about for many years.”

One thing he learned, forcefully, was how the shortage of primary care physicians affects care of patients, especially those with complex problems. Continue reading →

Polio in Syria: ‘War crime of epidemic proportions’

SyriaOf all the horrors occurring in Syria — more than 11,500 deaths, torture, displacement, the resurgence of infectious diseases — the outbreak of polio is a “war crime of truly epidemic proportions.”

That’s the verdict of Dr. Annie Sparrow, a critical-care pediatrician and public health professional who is also assistant professor of global health and deputy director of the human rights program at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

She writes about polio in Syria in the 20 February issue of the New York Review of Books.

Syria has not had an indigenous case of polio since 1995 — until last year, when 90 cases were documented. That outbreak is entirely man-made, Dr. Sparrow argues, because part of the government’s war strategy has been to target immunization programs, physicians and the health-care system generally. Continue reading →

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