While I have published in medical journals and have spoken at medical meetings, I feel a greater satisfaction through my interactions with patients and advocates, rather than with other physicians. Through my recent research into Advance Care Planning, I have realized that the greatest impact can come by reaching, educating and empowering the general public. What better way to reach the general public than through OpEds?
In the first OpEd Project Public Voices Fellowship session at Northwestern University, I wrote an outline for an OpEd directed at the holiday season. Michele Weldon, The OpEd Project’s seminar leader, immediately informed me that the holiday season was too far off and I should target the following week. ‘What? Write an OpEd this weekend?’ That was on Friday November 2nd, Michele had the draft on Monday and my first OpEd was published on November 13th.
The published version is not far off from the original draft. Keeping in mind the pertinent features of an OpEd we were taught, and repeating the mantra “I am an expert because…”, made the process manageable. A little tweaking here and there to make it relevant, adding a few hyperlinks, and enhancing the title seemed to do it. How much work Michele did behind the scenes is not entirely clear. She included me on all of her correspondence and I learned some of the necessary back-and-forth required. Overall, the process was minimally frustrating and the result was especially satisfying.
This world of journalism moves quickly-unlike the medical literature that I am used to. After the months of reviews and rewrites, the publication of a simple message can seem unwieldy. I would have to say that only about 20% of published medical articles are relevant at the time of publication (nonscientific random sampling of medical journals conducted by me). Learning how to organize your thoughts, with a significant message, and getting it published in two weeks is certainly a more gratifying endeavor.
Has this motivated me to continue writing more? Well, my second OpEd was published November 14th and the third is nearly complete. This process has even encouraged me to tackle the half written medical articles sitting on my desk!
Mary F. Mulcahy is an OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Hematology Oncology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Specializing in the treatment of pancreatic, biliary, esophageal and liver cancers, Mulcahy has more than 10 years experience in caring for patients with terminal illness. She is the co-founder of Life Matters Media, a newswire nonprofit site launching in 2013 to help all of those involved in end of life decision making. Visit blog.lifemattersmedia.org.