Plenary Session 2: John P. McGovern Award Lecture

June 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment

      Dr. Richard Besser, M.D., gave the John P. McGovern Award Lecture on Sunday morning, at MLA’s 2013 One Health conference. Dr. Bessers’ presentation, “Life on Two Sides of the Camera: The Role of Media in Shaping Health,” focused on the importance of language and delivery in communicating public health issues, the value of librarians finding the best available information for their users, and the trend of the narrative format in journalism today.
     Dr. Besser’s active and varied background made him particularly qualified to discuss such a complex topic. Dr. Besser began his medical career in pediatrics. As a physician, he authored and co-authored hundreds of publications, which eventual began his distinguished career as a writer and investigative reporter. In the mid-1990’s, he worked at the University of California as the Pediatric Residency Director as well as a member of the San Diego county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. In 1991, 1998, and 2009, he worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the Epidemiology Section Chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch, the Acting Chief of the Meningitis and Special Pathogens Branch in the National Center for Infectious Disease, and the Medical Director of the CDC’s national campaign to promote appropriate antibiotic use in the community. By 2011, Dr. Besser led global health coverage for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).
     In Dr. Bessers’ current position as the Senior Health and Medical Editor for ABC News, he is responsible for medical analysis and commentary for all ABC national news broadcasts and platforms, including “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.” During his lecture, he presented an interesting perspective about the combination of medicine and television journalism.
     His lecture was thought provoking and public health was the central focus. His broad experience with emergency response teams and with bird and swine flu was emphasized in his opening statement. He continued to speak about the importance of communication. “You use different words to get different responses.” This can be especially applied to public health, which he found particularly true while working at the CDC in dealings with the general public, emergency preparedness, and emergency response activities. Communication is a necessary tool to any jobs in healthcare or journalism today. It is imperative to obtain and use correct information to be distributed to the general public, when working in public health. He spoke about information sharing with the general public; what the CDC knew and when they knew it. Being transparent is also important when dealing with the public in a pandemic. Communication is again, key to what the CDC does.
     Dr. Besser believes to “Be first, be right, be credible and use repetition” when dealing with the public. He continued with the importance of “best available science.” This is vital at the highest levels of government, with our elected officials, and also in our own hospital institutions, as seen in medial libraries; medical librarians work alongside clinicians to find the “best available science.” Evidence-based medicine is what physicians are seeking and these librarians are skilled searchers in finding this information in a timely manner. They show clinicians how to examine information with an eye to detail and what is or isn’t useful. Credible evidence-based medicine is paramount and medical librarians have this training and know what clinicians expect. While working in the residency program at University of San Diego, Dr. Besser frequently turned to the medical library as an important resource to find the best available information.
     In his closing, Dr. Besser showed the audience two very short segments he had previously presented on “World News with Diane Sawyer.” This gave the audience a sampling of the type of public health medicine he currently practices and implements for ABC News. The first segment, “New Vaccine Could Save Africa’s Children,” was about Global Health in Kenya regarding pneumonia vaccines for young children. The second segment, “Sharp Rise in Serious Sports Injuries in Children,” was on unusual sports injuries in school-age children in the U.S., particularly with anterior cruciate ligament tears. Both segments were less than two minutes in length and used the narrative format to explain each topic. The narrative format, regularly seen in television journalism today, reaches an audience through storytelling that invokes an emotion response and is told from a vivid and intimate perspective.

Submitted by Megan McNichol
Eastern Maine Medical Center

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