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What Is It About Medical Writing?

In other words, why is medical science interesting to you? Why is it something you’re inspired to write about?

For me, my family has a prevalent history of autoimmune disorders (Graves’ disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis just to name a few), which probably sparked an interest going back to my childhood. I grew up learning about the different kinds of medicines my mother took, and why she took them. I was fortunate to have parents who took the trouble to explain how things worked to me, rather than assuming that because I was a child, I didn’t need to know (or couldn’t understand). Curiosity and learning were fostered.

Now that I have my own kids, both they and my husband have a host of severe food allergies, furthering what has morphed into a complete interest in immunology. One day, perhaps I can specialize in that. I wonder: Could there be an evolutionary purpose to allergic reactions and autoantibodies, which ordinarily seem like a useless nuisance? Do our bodies simply get confused, or do these functions actually become advantageous in certain situations? Have they already benefitted us in ways we don’t yet understand? Hypothetically beneficial or not, how can we learn to better treat and manage these immune reactions?

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Be a Proactive Patient

Note: I am not a doctor. This advice is based on both my own, and my family’s, personal experience with doctors.

When you see your doctor, don’t simply let him or her ask questions. Don’t submit to progress mindlessly through the visit, under your physician’s direction. Get the most out of your doctor’s services by researching prior to visits, and asking questions once you get there; make sure your doctor is on the same page with you as far as goals, ideals, and treatment. There are good and bad doctors — and also some who are not bad, but just disagree with your goals and ideals, and that’s OK. That’s why it’s good we have the freedom and choice to switch doctors if we feel we are not being treated fairly, or just because we want to!

Your doctor, if respectable, will most likely appreciate your increased involvement. When a medicine is prescribed, ask questions and find out if there are other medicines or options. If there is a problem with your body, find out if there are more tests that could be done to shed clearer light on what is happening. Your doctor will be able to better care for you and do his or her job if he/she knows what you want. So know what you want. Be a proactive patient.

Also Note: When doing your own research, it can be easy to find misleading information, especially if you are not searching through peer-reviewed medical literature. It’s also easy for some people to fall into worrying too much while reading online about health, so be careful not to succumb to that trap. But guess what? Some medical students have the same problem. People also have differing opinions on things like “gluten sensitivity” (which I personally don’t believe in; my family actually has an abundance of real allergies, which make the trendy “gluten-free” fad a bit offensive to me, but only because of people who don’t really need to be avoiding it) but know that it’s perfectly OK to have a dialogue with your doctor. You and your doctor should have a good relationship, even when you disagree, and be able to discuss things rationally. Your doctor should never make you feel inferior or stupid, nor should your doctor avoid stating his/her opinion and fail to try and persuade you when he/she truly believes him/herself to be correct.

Facebook Health Groups

As a medical writer, of course I’m interested in health. One of my hobbies is to read about health and medicine on the internet — yes, even Facebook. However, in the few health groups I have joined so far (which pertain to my own family history-related health interests, particularly autoimmune disease), much misinformation predominates. Everyone who is able to comment seems to consider themselves an expert and offers advice aggressively, despite whether an elementary amount of research shows it to be unsound. I worry about the people in these groups who might not be such critical thinkers, and would take unhelpful advice.

That being said, I believe in the good of the internet. I am not like those people who believe it to be a mostly negative influence. While there is much inaccuracy to be found on the world wide web, there is also truth; when we think about it, critical thinking has always been necessary. Not everything we see on TV or read in a book is true, either. Therefore, I believe some of the malice towards internet inaccuracy is unfair. These people do not hold the same contempt for inaccurate or misleading TV shows and books, even though they should. What we need to promote is critical thinking, not anti-internet propaganda.

We should also try to limit the promotion of false information, while fully respecting free speech. Free speech is vital, so promotion of critical thinking is more important than restricting the spread of false data; there will most likely always be some amount of misinformation, and a public incapable of thinking critically is vulnerable to that.

Before following anyone’s health advice, on or off Facebook (I’ve had bad health advice given to me by my own family as well), do your own research first. Use critical thinking, and try to be aware of any biases you have going into the matter. Consult multiple sources, preferably scholarly medical journals or articles. PubMed is a wonderful online tool for this. Thanks to the internet, it is possible to do some accurate research in a relatively short amount of time — so take advantage of this. Be grateful for all the resources the internet offers us, while also knowing not to believe everything you see and hear (either on or off the internet).