The ‘Write’ Elective for Residents

Jun 15, 2018
Heidi Singer

Medical residents with an interest in communications can now take an elective honing their writing skills for U of T-linked website Healthy Debate.

“It’s a cool hybrid between academic writing and writing for a general audience,” says Wilson Kwong, a third-year resident in internal medicine who, in August, will become the first Faculty of Medicine learner to take the elective. “Storytelling and writing is something I’m interested in, and it seems to align with my career goals because wherever I end up practicing, I’m hoping to do more writing.”

Professor Andreas Laupacis, a general internist, created the website six years ago, primarily as a high-quality journalism resource for health professionals. It was originally headquartered at St. Michael’s Hospital, where he was executive director of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute. Since stepping down from that role, Laupacis has moved Healthy Debate to U of T’s Department of Medicine, where he has become Lead, Patient Involvement. At U of T, he is eager to spend more time building it into a resource for both medical workers and patients.

“The editorial board composition is now about 50 percent patients,” says Laupacis. “I made a very deliberate decision to ask people with diverse experiences with the health system: a young man who is quadraplegic, dependent on a ventilator and lives at home; a mom whose child spent the first year-and-a-half in the NICU; a person who has bipolar disorder, and a woman who is indigenous (Saulteaux from the Peguis nation) , among others. I expect the patients will push us to do different kinds of stories than we’ve done to date.”

During the month of their placement with Healthy Debate, each resident will be expected to complete a minimum of one article, one opinion piece and one profile of a health provider, as part of the popular Faces of Health Care series.

Kwong is particularly interested in using journalism skills to explore long-term care for elderly people in Toronto across different cultures.

“I have grandparents who had great experiences in Chinese nursing homes in the GTA,” he says. “I’d like to see if other cultures around the city have these types of nursing homes and whether people value them.”

The website receives around 100,000 visits per month. University students make up a significant part of the readership, and Laupacis hopes the addition of residents will further this readership. Dr. Seema Marwaha, a general internist at Trillium Health Partners, is a member of the Healthy Debate editorial board and has experience with multimedia approaches (e.g. podcasting, video). She will help interested residents develop multimedia, adding to the website’s storytelling scope.

“I have a feeling residents will bring a different vibe to the whole thing,” Laupacis says.

Kwong has written for publications such as CMAJ previously, and believes the skills that come with journalism – interviewing, listening, and developing narratives – will further his medical education.

“The more articles you write, the more you get to talk to patients, absorb their stories and share in some way,” he says, “ I think makes you a better doctor.”

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