Debra Houry is a force to be reckoned with. A 2012 OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow at Emory University School of Medicine, we asked her to talk with us about how public thought leadership, and what she’s learned as a fellow with The OpEd Project PVF, has transformed her professional outlook and practice. Here is what she had to say:
Why is it important for physicians to engage in public thought leadership?
The public is increasingly using non-traditional sources for medical and public health-related information, yet physicians are largely not engaged in these venues. I was one of these physicians until recently. I now realize that if we do not speak up for our patients, then others who are less knowledgeable will make decisions that could be detrimental or have unintended consequences. In this age of social media, Joe the Plumber and Honey Boo Boo are talking about issues, so it only makes sense that we as physicians get out there as well and inform the public about healthcare issues.
How has public thought leadership changed your professional practice?
Before the OpEd Project, I was focused on my research and publishing in traditional academic journals. Although most of my scholarship does have community impact such as my kiosk screening for partner violence and intervening after traumas to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, I was not communicating these findings to the general public.
Tell us about an op-ed you wrote and its impact.
I work on the frontlines of our healthcare system as an emergency physician in an inner-city hospital. I’ve been very active in my specialty organizations, but not engaged with legislators or other decision-makers. While watching election coverage this fall, I became frustrated with Romney’s comment about emergency departments as the source of health care coverage for all. I work in a busy hospital and I see patients all the time with complications of chronic conditions that could have been prevented with early and regular access to healthcare. I realized it was important for me to respond to Romney’s quote and I wrote my first-op “Emergency Rooms are on Life Support”. Afterwards I received many supportive emails from physicians as well as positive comments from laypersons applauding the piece and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine sent it out to its 6,500 members. Similarly, after watching the media coverage of a domestic violence homicide, I found my voice and wrote “Domestic Violence: A Month of Awareness but a Daily Occurrence” about the need for prevention of partner violence, accurate media reporting, and for the importance of supporting the Violence Against Women Act. My third piece was a bit more controversial on racial disparities in health care and I received many negative comments. Instead of discouraging me from writing again, I realized that I had made an impact with the readers and perhaps made a few rethink their positions.
That’s incredible! And, how does public thought leadership compliment your scholarly work?
Since writing these op-eds, my eyes were opened to the importance of having a public discourse. I’ve now given several lectures on public scholarship and physicians including keynote presentations at the New England Society for Academic Emergency Medicine meeting and the American Physician Scientists Association national meeting. I’ve followed up these talks with a column in Injury Prevention on “Public Scholarship and Injury Practitioners”. And, I’m trying to pay it forward. In the class I’m teaching now the final assignment is an op-ed. My hope is to get 18 op-eds out in the public venue to further the discussions after the academic coursework has ended. Although I’ve never been a quiet person, this venue had helped make my voice even louder and more powerful. Thank you for opening my eyes and my work to public scholarship.
Debra Houry, MD, MPH, is Vice-Chair for Research and Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and Director of the Emory Center for Injury Control. You can follow Houry on Twitter: @debhoury