Healthy Journalism

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Present at the creation

Most graduate programs in journalism can’t offer their students a bedside perspective on the birth of a new medical school. But HMJ at UGA is doing just that – and it’s an unprecedented opportunity for reporters training to spend their careers on the health and medicine beat.

Graduate students in the advanced health and medical journalism course are shooting high-definition digital video for a documentary about what happens when a medical school campus opens in a complex, established ecosystem. UGA itself, local hospitals and clinics, and people in need of medical care – all will be affected.

New grad students will pick up the story every year and eventually maybe we’ll have our own version of Nova’s documentaries about Harvard Medical School.

Eight reporters are working three beats: medical students, faculty (at UGA and beyond), and local medical and patient communities. Students in JRMC 7356 will be doing their own stories this semester and storing their interviews in a digital archive. These files will be used by future HMJ graduate students and will be a resource for other scholars who want to look back on the early years of medical education at UGA.

There are only 133 accredited, degree-granting medical schools in the United States, and it’s a big deal when a new school opens or an established one expands. The Medical College of Georgia, based in Augusta, and the University of Georgia launched a new medical partnership in Athens on August 9, adding 40 new slots to MCG’s entering class. The day was sweltering and people never stopped flapping church-style fans printed with the day’s speakers.

The partnership’s mission is to grow more of our own primary care physicians – men and women who will put down roots and flourish in communities that struggle to attract good doctors.

That’s the long-term goal. But already the new medical partnership is enriching scholarship and professional training across the UGA campus. College of Education faculty and med school faculty are combining “current learning science and current medical science” to craft an innovative curriculum that takes advantage of the small class size, Associate Dean Scott Richardson told HMJ students recently.

“Lecture is not a good drug,” Richardson said. “Active engagement is a more effective drug.”

UGA acting students are learning play patients with various complaints, so med students can practice interviewing and basic clinical skills. Partnership students do much of their learning and problem-solving in 8-member teams, although lectures and dissections are required. Athens students cover the same ground as those in Augusta and sit for the same national examinations.

College of Public Health faculty are helping teach classes, some new medical school faculty have joint appointments in basic science departments, and having a medical school on campus will make the university more competitive for more types of research support.

However the story unfolds, HMJ graduate students will be on the scene, toting tripods and compact videocams, gingerly attaching wireless lavalieres to doctors and hospital CEOs, capturing reactions from young people doing their first cadaver dissection.

(Photo by Dot Paul: journalism students meet med students on August 9, 2010, tour with Dr. Scott Richardson.)

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