By Kelley Talbot, Class of 2016

What medications do you take? Your parents? Your children? They may not be as effective as you think.

My grandfather was a successful family doctor for generations. We all went to him for our various aches and pains, and were often disappointed when – nine times out of 10 – he dismissed the latest prescription or treatment as unproven. We went home empty-handed. Especially as he got older (and we were less intimidated by him!) we sometimes slapped a label of old-fashioned or curmudgeonly on him.

But it looks like he was on to something.

He insisted that many treatments were unproven – despite FDA approval. And that they didn’t work well enough to justify their side effects, much less their cost. He was truly angry about what he saw as unnecessary patient suffering brought on by over-treatment. Now The Atlantic and ProPublica have co-published an in-depth story that seemingly supports this more conservative approach and may have you questioning you doctor’s next advice.

This isn’t a story bashing pharma or glorifying “natural” living – it’s a story of multiple flawed systems, doctors slow to change, and patients eager for cures. Here are key takeaways from David Epstein’s article.

  • It is shockingly common for patients to get treatments proven ineffective or dangerous. Epstein reports that a 2013 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced. A 2012 study funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing identified 156 active medical practices that are probably unsafe or ineffective. Stents, statins and sleeping pills are examples of very common treatments that can be both ineffective and overused. And this isn’t really breaking news – this evidence has been building for a long time.
  • Care that doesn’t improve outcomes isn’t just an expensive hassle: It can hurt people. Stents can cause complications that directly or indirectly lead to death; statins may lower blood pressure but not necessarily prevent heart attacks or extend life – so patients merely have better blood pressure when they die; sleeping pills in seniors rarely improve sleep but can cause fogginess, memory loss or serious accidents. Even screenings have their downsides: Epstein cites a new study looking at doctors’ perception of disease-screening tests and found that “they tend to underestimate the potential harms of screening and overestimate the potential benefits.”

How can this be?

Why would doctors prescribe treatments that don’t work? Profit motive above everything? Bad science? Isn’t the FDA supposed to protect us? Epstein breaks it down for us:

  • Testing and approval practices are flawed. The results of even randomized controlled trials can be difficult to interpret. “Therapies are frequently approved for use based on clinical trials that can’t actually prove whether they work,” Epstein asserts. “According to a new paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology, even when cancer drugs clearly do work in trials, they often don’t work or work substantially less well in the real world, perhaps because subjects in trials are not representative of typical patients."
  • There is a medical and publishing culture that emphasizes breakthroughs but gives short shrift to replication or later findings that show inefficacy. Academic journals and the mainstream press are more likely to publish studies about promising new treatments. Doctors, in turn, rely in part on journals to keep current. “Failing to publish negative results is recognized to be a massive source of scientific misinformation,” Epstein notes.
  • Providers are slow to adapt their treatment to new research. “A 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association paper coauthored by John Ioannidis — a Stanford University medical researcher and statistician who rose to prominence exposing poor-quality medical science — found that it took 10 years for large swaths of the medical community to stop referencing popular practices after their efficacy was unequivocally vanquished by science.”
  • Doctors have financial incentives to treat patients, and worry about being sued if they don’t. While financial incentives are shifting, getting paid more for more treatment is deeply ingrained in our healthcare system.
  • Patients pressure doctors to treat them, even against doctors’ advice. Many patients will shop around until a doctor agrees. John Christoforetti, an orthopedic surgeon in Pittsburgh, tells the story of a patient who wanted a particular type of knee surgery and when he explained that it was inappropriate, was hit with a negative review.

Is this changing?

Epstein cautions that the 21st Century Cures Act could exacerbate regulatory shortcomings, and that “FDA approved” won’t guarantee the same safeguards it does today. On the other hand, providers do adapt their treatment to new findings, it just needs to happen more quickly; financial incentives have been shifting to reward outcomes rather than volume; emphasis on replication in the medical and academic publishing communities has resurged; and researchers are improving and expanding registries that use massive data-sets to track real-world drug efficacy. These points suggest the need for vigilance and further work, as well as opportunities for growth – including in efforts to strengthen providers’ access to relevant findings and develop systems that support doctors when they appropriately decline to treat patients.

Read the entire article for additional details and attention-grabbing stories.

by Laura Paton, MSHC Class of 2017

The Atlantic recently published an article about Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) which told the story of Carmela Torres from Colombia, a mother of three children born premature. Her experience with her first premature birth was terrifying, but with her second and third children, she was encouraged to practice KMC -- constant skin-to-skin contact with her baby until he weighed approximately 5.5 pounds.

Photo credit: Juliana Gomez, Mosaic

Carmela is not the only success story associated with KMC.  Edgar Rey, a Colombian pediatrician, began the program in 1978 in the Instituto Materno Infantil in Bogota, Colombia. Upon commencing KMC at his hospital, he found, "[premature infant] death rates and infection levels dropped immediately. Overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were much shorter, incubators were freed up, and the number of abandoned babies fell" (Corner, 2017). Currently, KMC is a mandate in Colombian law-- all mothers with babies born weighing less than 2500g are sent to their nearest KMC center after delivery.

“It is clear KMC is about much more than just saving the baby’s life. It is about allowing the baby to thrive and giving it the best possible quality of life. I have fought all my life to show that KMC has nothing to do with comfort or massage or anything fluffy like that. It is difficult to do… but the benefits are extraordinary.”

Nathalie Charpak, Pediatrician

Today there are more than 1600 studies showing that KMC works. Babies who are exposed to KMC bond more strongly with their parents, can self-regulate better than babies treated with conventional care, and their heart and respiratory function improves. Kangaroo babies also perform better in cognitive development and have higher IQs at 12 months of age (Corner, 2017).

What does KMC have to do with health communication?

In the MS in Health Communication program, we’re currently taking a class called "Difficult Conversations in Healthcare," taught by Dr. Courtney Scherr. Broaching the concept of KMC is a classic example of just such a conversation. Many new parents may not initially understand KMC, as most of us are conditioned to accept that modern medicine for preemies, including incubators, breathing treatments, anti-bacterial protocols and the like, would be standard practice. However, KMC has proven that an inexpensive, human-centered and non-medical approach may be better for underweight babies than conventional medical care.

While the Atlantic article focuses on the beginnings of Kangaroo Mother Care in a developing country, it is important to discuss how this concept can be implemented in other countries under markedly different circumstances. According to Charpak et. al (2005), there are three main scenarios in which Kangaroo Mother Care should be implemented:

  • Areas with restricted access to neonatal care
  • Areas with appropriate access to care but insufficient amounts of it
  • Areas with appropriate and sufficient access to technology and neonatal care

The United States clearly falls into the third category. The argument for Kangaroo Mother Care here does not come out of strict necessity, but instead should be framed as an improvement on the current system.

Research has shown that KMC lowers costs and improves outcomes for both parents and babies. I think it’s time for the United States to study Kangaroo Mother Care more and determine how it could be implemented more often here. Some hospitals in the U.S. already practice skin-to-skin contact and kangaroo care (some of these have the Baby-Friendly designation). Studying countries where KMC is practiced could help. While it’s important to keep in mind that modern medical technologies have helped many mothers and babies, and that it is the mother’s choice that matters most in this respect, taking a closer look at Kangaroo Mother Care could have a myriad of benefits here in the United States.

References

Charpak, N., Gabriel Ruiz, J., Zupan, J., Cattaneo, A., Figueroa, Z., Tessier, R., ... & Mokhachane, M. (2005). Kangaroo mother care: 25 years after. Acta Paediatrica, 94(5), 514-522.

Corner, L. (2017, February 7). Saving Babies' Lives by Carrying Them Like Kangaroos. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/02/kangaroo-care/515844/.

Tessier, R., Cristo, M., Velez, S., Girón, M., de Calume, Z. F., Ruiz-Paláez, J. G., ... & Charpak, N. (1998). Kangaroo mother care and the bonding hypothesis. Pediatrics, 102(2), e17-e17.

Spotlight on: Jason Kay, MSHC Class of 2016

by Erick Ward (MSHC Class of 2017)

Where did you grow up and long have you been in Chicago?

I’ve been in Chicago for my whole life. I was actually born at Northwestern Hospital and I’ve been here ever since.

Where did you do your studies before Northwestern?

I did my undergrad at DePaul and then I got my Doctor of Pharmacy at Midwestern University in Downers Grove.

What attracted you to the Northwestern program?

The fact that it was Northwestern. It was on my bucket list to have a degree from Northwestern University. I’m a pharmacist by trade. I was a pharmacist at CVS and I saw there were a lot of communication problems. When I heard about the program at Northwestern, I saw an opportunity to tackle some of these problems.

Where do you currently work?

I’m the Director of Pharmacy Initiatives at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. I’ve been there for five months and I got the job through the program.

How has the program helped you in your new role?

It gave me the tools to communicate with different healthcare providers. I deal a lot with doctors and scientists and executives. I can help coordinate among them, in terms of lowering costs and improving quality of care for Blue Cross Blue Shield patients. The program gave me a new way of looking at things that I never would have thought of before.

What did you enjoy most about the program?

My classmates and the people I met. They were all fantastic people from different backgrounds. I still keep in touch with a lot of them. That’s probably number one—I made some friendships that I know will be life long.

What advice do you have for current or incoming students?

Keep an open mind. You just never know what will fall in to your lap or what the next day will bring. I never thought I would get a job like this.

What surprised you the most about the program?

The fact that they actually took the time to help you find new jobs and opportunities. I thought it would be more straight-forward going in to the program, but they did so much to help with my resume, interviewing skills and job searches.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your time in the program?

The program changed the course of my career. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I don’t regret one bit.

By Kelley Talbot

Depression is hitting many teens and children hard.

It is now as likely for 10-14-year-olds to die from suicide as from a traffic accident. The prevalence of depression among 12-17-year-olds has increased significantly since 2005. About 12.5 percent of American teens experienced depression in 2015.

Maybe equally surprising is that unmet mental health needs are as high today as they were 20 years ago. Nearly 80 percent of youth in need of mental health services don’t get them.

But try to ask questions about teen depression vs. normal moodiness causes, and the best treatment choices, and you’ll unleash a tsunami of fiercely held beliefs. Just take a look at the comments section from this New York Times article. To summarize here, these comments reflect the tangled web of issues confronting teens and parents with questions about depression.

  • Is it depression, or just teen angst?
  • Is it better for them to tough it out – will a label of “depressed” and a prescription make it worse or even be dangerous?
  • Where can I find treatment? Will it be right for my teen? How much will it cost?

Pediatricians and primary care doctors have a critical and unique role in framing mental health conversations for families and connecting them to appropriate care.

Specifically, the American Academy of Pediatrics cites their “longitudinal, trusting, and empowering relationship” with patients and parents – essential for delicate conversations. Framing matters – because how doctors talk about depression, medication and therapy will influence if, when, and what type of treatment teens and parents seek.

Primary care providers (PCPs) are well-positioned to improve the recognition and treatment of depression among children and adolescents, given the frequency with which this population sees their PCPs and their comfort in discussing health behavior concerns with their clinicians. Interventions delivered to depressed adolescents by PCPs and within the primary care setting have demonstrated effectiveness.”

-Amy Cheung, Current Psychiatry Reports

While these providers increasingly recognize the role they can and should be playing, they cite many hurdles to making it workable. Many primary care doctors aren’t confident in their mental health expertise, aren’t confident there are enough specialists to refer patients to, worry about the time it will take to help these patients, and have concerns about getting paid (even in the age of parity).

So what’s being done to get depressed teens help? What new tools are being developed to support pediatricians and PCPs?

First, the AAP and the AAFP now recommend screening adolescents for depression and suicide risks. The AAP has created an extensive toolkit to assist in screening and supporting patients, even as they raise the alarm about specialist shortages. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has also developed tools for physicians, encouraging them to screen, evaluate, refer and follow up. It also points out that families are hungry for information – they want fact sheets and brochures, lists of websites, and lists of local support groups.

5 Most Helpful Things a Doctor Can Say

  1. There is hope
  2. You are not alone
  3. It's not your fault
  4. I understand
  5. You child has many strengths

- From the National Alliance on Mental Illness

There’s a clear unmet need for depressed teens to be diagnosed and treated, and a need for pediatricians and PCPs to help fill that gap. It will take system-wide change to ensure that mental health care is available, affordable, and reimbursed. While efforts are slowly implemented to address those challenges, patients and providers can benefit in the interim from the increasing number of resources to start mental health conversations and provide appropriate screening and referrals. Difficult as it may be to have these conversations or change office practice, they will prevent suicides of teens who feel helpless and hopeless.

A Johns Hopkins Medicine study concludes that medical error is the third-leading cause of death in the US. It estimates that medical error kills 250,000 Americans every year.

Reactions ranged from astonishment to disbelief when the study was released in May, with some parties questioning the researchers' definition of error.

The study unleashed a mix of fury from some providers, who felt they were being blamed for systemic failures, patient behavior, and disappointing outcomes for very sick patients. Others called for a focus on reducing mistakes.

One Medscape article captured the flavor of the discussions:

An internist:

A pain management physician:

A pharmacist:

Accurately defining and measuring medical error is a worthy undertaking, with many stakeholders trying to rise to the challenge. And while definitions and estimates vary, there can be little question that medical error is a significant source of patient suffering and death, and that there is room for improvement. That includes not just preventing mistakes in the first place, but improving how they’re handled afterwards.

Of course, the priority is to mitigate physical harm when possible, but there’s also an opportunity to ease patient and family anguish through appropriate communication, apology and empathy.

In Words that Heal, Frenkel and Liebman assert: “Apologies have a potential for healing that is matched only by the difficulty most people have in offering them.”

Rick Boothman, chief risk officer for the University of Michigan Health System, elaborates: “Apologies save money, sure. But more importantly, apologies save lives. It is not just about reducing costs associated with expensive trials. [Apology processes] also train practitioners to take a closer look at preventable adverse events and adjust the processes that caused them. In other words, apologizing and resolving complaints helps prevent future errors.”

Yet, many providers are unwilling or unprepared to have these conversations. Researchers cite fear of liability, concerns about hurting providers’ professional reputation and difficulty acknowledging responsibility, and lack of training to lead these discussions.

Now, initiatives to find a better approach are underway.

At the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington, KY, errors are disclosed, apologies are made, and settlements are offered. “The hospital reports that the policy has resulted in improved relationships with patients, faster settlement of claims, and decreased litigation costs,” explains Jennifer Robbennolt in Apologies and Medical Error.

AHRQ recently released its CANDOR (Communication and Optimal Resolution) process toolkit for responding to medical errors. The model requires a shift away from “deny-and-defend” towards one that includes identifying errors, disclosure and response to patients and other stakeholders, and investigation and analysis aimed to prevent future mistakes.

The MedStar health system – which piloted CANDOR – reports that its rate of serious safety events has been cut in half since it began using CANDOR principles.

Credit: AHRQ.gov

While acknowledging there is a long way to go in terms of refining similar models, gaining buy-in, and implementation, supporters say the potential benefits -- fewer errors, reduced costs, and faster resolution of events -- are worth pursuing. Benefits that healthcare communication professionals must play a significant role in realizing.

Spotlight on: Stacey Bashara, Alumni Coach & MSHC Class of 2016

by Laura Paton (MSHC Class of 2017)

Where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and I’ve lived in Chicago for 25 years.

Where did you do your undergraduate studies and what did you study there?

I did my undergrad at Northwestern and got my Bachelor’s in Journalism.

How did you become interested in health communication? 

I come from a family of veterinarians. Because of this, I grew up in a world that had a lot of medicine in it, as well as many comparisons between human and veterinary medicine. It made me realize that vets need to be excellent diagnosticians, because their patients can’t tell you what’s wrong. They need to take cues from the owner, and the animal, and the environment. It also made me realize that humans are not always the best interpreters of themselves either—they can list their symptoms, but not the root cause. Human doctors need to observe what the patient says, but also what the patient does.

Later, when saw an ad on a bus for the MSHC program, I was intrigued because I knew communication was a critical—and sometimes missing—component in healthcare.  Then I went to an info session and Dr. Lambert’s sample Experience of Illness lecture, and I was hooked. I was a frustrated pre-med student at one point, but I still had this bug to write—and so I got my journalism degree. The MSHC program brought both interests together for me.

Where do you currently work?

I’ve owned my own company, Trilogy Interactive, for 10 years.  Before that, I worked at a broadcast ad agency. Trilogy is a digital communications company that works primarily with nonprofits and progressive advocacy organizations. We do serve some healthcare clients—organizations that are advocating for the ACA, advocating for those who are disadvantaged, those who experience health disparities, academic medical centers, as well as organizations that are investigating quality in healthcare. The primary work we do at Trilogy is web design and development work—helping organizations use the web to tell stories and engage their audiences. I hope to continue the evolution of the healthcare channel at Trilogy, utilizing what I’ve learned in the MSHC program.

What are your hobbies?

I have 2 Maltese dogs, Milo and Fergus. I love to cook, especially with friends. I also play the ukulele, and am involved at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

What was your favorite part of the MSHC program?

My favorite part of the program was two classes: Patient Engagement with Dr. Berger and The Experience of Illness with Dr. Lambert. Those two classes really made the students think about our own situations with family and friends going through illness, and made us reflect and become more empathetic. The key is to never forget that a patient is a person with complex emotions, not just a list of symptoms. I think these two classes really made sure students understood that resolving illness doesn’t end with the resolution of symptoms.

I know you are currently an alumni writing coach (and a great one at that)—based on that and your experience, what advice do you have for students starting the program?

My advice is that you get out of it what you put into it. It’s very easy to check the boxes and get the work done. But it’s the people who really dive in and put their whole heart into it who will emerge as change-makers, and will make an impact on our healthcare landscape. And with the recent political climate, this work is more important than ever.

How did you become interested in health communication?

About three and a half years ago, I switched from journalism to a nonprofit, the National Headache Foundation. I’m the web specialist and communications director, which involves managing the website, social media, and membership outreach, among other things. The foundation is very small—only six of us in the office—so it’s all hands on deck. I enjoy the work, but felt not quite up-to-speed because I didn’t have a health background. 

What health communication topic interests you most?

Health insurance. In my job, I often come across complaints about insurance from patients and other organizations. Knowing more about how the insurance industry works really interests me.

What drew you to the Northwestern program?

The big draw was the Saturday schedule and being able to keep my work schedule and the rest of my life in order while going back to school. 

What do you hope will be the next step in your career?

I like the basis of the work that I’m doing, working in healthcare and with other organizations, but want to make that next step and have more information about what else is available. I’m using the program to explore options, and narrowing things down with every Proseminar speaker and through other research.

What upcoming classes are you most excited about?

I think the Health and Media class is the one that I’m most excited about, based on my background. It’s most aligned with the work that I currently do.

What has surprised you most about the program?

The wide range of backgrounds in the group. For example, there are people who have been in their jobs for years and people coming just out of undergrad. Northwestern always said this program drew a very diverse group, with different backgrounds and careers, but it wasn’t until I experienced it that I saw how wide-ranging it was. 

What has been your favorite part of the program?

I have a couple of friends in their residency, and I enjoy being able to talk to them about some of this content. I am so much more confident talking to them about the issues in their job, and about what I do now and hope to do later. 

What advice do you have for students starting the program?

Find hidden time in your day to do the readings. I can’t think of a time when I don’t have some of the readings available and waiting for me—on the El, at lunch, in the office… I always have one of the readings with me to do when there’s downtime.

What do you like to do for fun?

I’m a big sports fan (Bears and Bulls). I used to coach middle school football and basketball before starting the program. I hope to get back into coaching after the program.

We’ve all seen half-hearted attempts to go digital. Patient portals that take forever to sign up for, only to offer laughable functionality. Health groups sending useless emails and texts. Websites that just aren’t up to par (insurance companies, anyone?).

What grabs people’s attention? What keeps people coming back for more and even changes their behavior? What makes a virtual community feel like family?

As healthcare professionals try to refine their engagement tools, the Webby Awards offer some answers – and best-in-class models we can learn from.

In their 2016 health category, top honors go to the Happy Forecast, a site that calls itself a social happiness experience. The site creates a beautiful playground for exploring “micro-interactions” in public spaces in London, including body language, sounds, and physical acts of kindness and aggression.

Asserting that these interactions significantly impact our mood and overall well-being, the founders explain that their goal is to “[encourage] us to be more mindful of our everyday social interactions with strangers as we move through the city. If we are all more aware we can work towards shifting the stigma of a grumpy city and make London even more enjoyable to be in.”

The People’s Voice award in the health category goes to WebMD, a site that takes a beating from many critics but nonetheless boasts significant engagement numbers. It's most well-known site claims to be the leading health information site for consumers, with Medscape being the leading source of clinical information for healthcare professionals.

Other Webby health winners include:

  • GoodRx, designed to help consumers save on prescription drugs
  • DansMonSac, a digital campaign for women’s sexual health in Quebec
  • MyHIVHangUp, which offers information and support for HIV+ patients considering or struggling with treatment.

Evive Health has also dedicated itself to building expertise in multi-platform patient engagement.

Some tips we’ve gleaned from tech experts:

  • Design with empathy – intentionally speak to your consumer
  • Test layout and design and make sure your patients can find you online
  • Build for utility, convenience and trust

This arena of healthcare communications will take ongoing dedication and learning on the part of professionals.  If done right, the rewards will be significant.

Do you know your LSNS score? How about your parents’ or grandparents’ score?

The Lubben Social Network Scale (LSNS) scores your level of social engagement – and could be an important tool for helping seniors and others stay healthy.

Take the test.

The higher your score, the greater your level of social engagement. So what’s the fuss?

Isolation and loneliness are bad for your health. So much so that researchers recommend treating it like a chronic illness, as serious as obesity and other killers. It has been linked to increased risk for sickness, disability, cognitive decline and premature death.

Studies show that loneliness increases:

  • Risk for early death by 45%,
  • Risk of dementia in later life by 64%, and
  • Rate of cognitive decline by up to 20% among the very lonely.

The reverse is true for people who have strong ties to family and friends: They are as much as 50% less at risk of dying over any given period of time than less connected people.

Residents of an intergenerational facility in Cleveland perform in a recital. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/college-students-are-living-rent-free-in-cleveland-retirement-home-180956930/

With 60 million Americans impacted by loneliness – including significant numbers of middle-aged adults – and solutions that necessarily go beyond the prescription pad – isolation is an urgent challenge calling for collaborative approaches. Real answers go beyond “keeping people busy.” What works for 40-somethings probably won’t work for 80-somethings. And affordability, as always, is a factor.

Much of the research related to isolation focuses on seniors. Traditional senior centers may improve social engagement for some, but not for people who don’t have a way to get to the programs, or who want a more comprehensive option. Senior communities may be a solution, though there are challenges surrounding leaving home and paying for a new place. Tim Carpenter, founder of EngAGE, is working to take the senior community concept to the next level-- creating affordable, vibrant spaces for seniors to grow and explore, with a deliberate emphasis on the arts. There was no shortage of enthusiasm from residents, who reported feeling “liberated,” “seeing the world in a different way,” being less forgetful, and regaining their balance.

Another idea that has been gaining steam is intergenerational living. Models in Cleveland and the Netherlands are examples of college students living for free in senior housing – with both generations enjoying many types of benefits.

With serious health implications and a need for community-driven solutions, health communication professionals can play an important role in addressing isolation.

MSHC Spotlight

Spotlight on: Shannon Truly (MSHC Class of 2017)

by John Brooks (MSHC Class of 2017)

Q: Where did you grow up, Shannon, and where are you currently residing?
A: I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and I currently live in Lincoln Park in Chicago – right across the street from the zoo.

Q: Where did you do your undergraduate studies and what did you study there?

A: I went to Spring Hill College, which is the third-oldest Jesuit school in the country, and I did my undergrad in photojournalism and philosophy.

Q: How did you get into health communication, coming off those studies?

A: I stayed in Mobile, where the college was, after school and needed to get a job – my mom knew someone who worked for a Mobile-based EHR vendor and got me an interview.  I wasn’t really exposed to healthcare that much before, but they allowed me to travel all over the country and go and teach and train people on how to use healthcare software and I kind of fell in love with it.  I loved interacting with and training people and having the opportunity to go anywhere I wanted in the country.  I just stuck with it, and moved from doing in-patient stuff to ambulatory work, all clinician-based.  I’ve been in healthcare IT for 15 years now, which is crazy.

Q: So, what is your current job title at Rush Hospital?

A: IT Project Lead.

Q: You have a lot of experience working with the IT side of the healthcare industry – what drove you toward the Health Communication program?  What helped you decide it would be a good career move?

A: I loved the fact that it blended things I already knew while challenging me with things I would need to know for the future of my career.  Understanding how patient engagement is moving, for example. How we communicate with our patients is so different from how we communicate with our clinicians and we really need to start focusing on that and developing software for it.

Q:  Spinning off that, what do you think this degree will do for your career?  Is there a goal trajectory for you in the future?
A: I think for me it will give me the confidence and research-base to contribute when we’re working on strategic goals for the hospital and our department.  I already have a seat at the table, but I’ll be able to incorporate the elements we’ve learned from the program and be confident in my decisions.  The knowledge has helped me as well as the teammates I’ve shared it with.

Q: What are your hobbies? What kind of things do you like doing when you’re not in class?

A: I love photography; my background is in photography, and Chicago’s a beautiful city to take pictures of.  The architecture, bands, those kind of things – I do love music too, so any opportunity that we can go and see a concert, be it a symphony, or an opera, or a really good hip hop show…all in between.  I also recently picked up the fine art of crocheting. It was supposed to be something relaxing; I struggled in the classes I took but I’m doing better now!

Q: As far as the program has been thus far, what has been your favorite part?
A: I really enjoyed watching and prepping for the poster presentations [for How Interaction Works]. It was a great way for us to connect; a lot of us were nervous, but we got to relax and mingle afterward.  I love giving presentations so for me it was mostly enjoyable, though.

Q:  And considering the class material, was there a particular topic or week that you thought was most significant for you from this past quarter?

A: I was talking with my brother, who is in med school, about the history of the US Healthcare System, and I remarked that Dr. Liss had really saved the best for last in our discussion of primary care and its importance. It was great to hear how passionate he was about it, and it was one of my favorite lectures because it’s one of my passions as well.

Q: What advice do you have for students starting the program, now that you have a full quarter of it under your belt?

A: Get organized, get sleep, stay ahead of the readings, and enjoy your time in the classroom and participate!  And don’t forget to take advantage of the program resources!