I never meant to be a health writer. I was one of the lucky kids who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. I knew beyond a doubt that I would be a news reporter—tracking down stories and writing for a major newspaper in a big city.
I did just that. And as it turned out, I didn’t want to be a news reporter after all. I was wrong, and I’m really glad I was.
The summer before my senior year, I took an internship at a publishing group where I ultimately got assigned to write and edit a newsletter to help hospitals comply with a variety of accreditation standards. I loved everything about it—learning the nuances of an industry I knew little about and knowing I was making an impact on the lives of others—and I’ve never looked back.
I’ve spent my entire professional career as a health care writer and editor, and although it is not something I ever thought I would do, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Determining how to use the right words, in the right way, is a puzzle I’ve never gotten bored of solving. Through my career, I have witnessed the power of words to evoke emotion, to convey information, to inspire change. And I feel we can do better.
Case in point: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, obesity rates are far too high, and every day, teenagers all across the country smoke their first cigarette, kicking off a life-long habit that will, in most cases, cause their death. We know that lowering cholesterol and blood pressure can reduce the risk of heart disease, we know that maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most powerful ways to live a fuller life, and we know that smoking causes cancer. So why aren’t we listening? Or—as health communications professionals—why aren’t people listening to us?
Finding the answer to those questions has become one of my passions. The research and evidence exist. But I believe the information is not always packaged in a way that people hear it or even in a way that they can hear it. People in this country are vastly different, bringing myriad life experiences, expectations, and understandings to the table. We can’t talk to everyone in the same way, but all too often, that’s exactly what we try to do.
As the managing editor at a patient recruitment firm, I produce materials that organizations, such as pharmaceutical and academic institutions, use to help educate patients about clinical trials. In my role, I’ve learned that just understanding what you’re writing isn’t enough. Instead, even the most ubiquitous clinical terms can be scary and intimidating.
It was while working in my current role that I realized I was no longer just an editor. I am a health communicator. My journey didn’t start out in this direction, but I am forever grateful that my career has taken this path.