Public health science communication – an 8th goal for public health training in the 21st century

European journal of public healthIn the latest issue of the European Journal of Public Health, a wish list for what public health training should look like in the 21st century is giving by Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century

Having a bachelor and masters degree in public health sciences from University of Copenhagen, I know for a fact that at least in a Danish context public health science communication has not been part of the curriculum for public health students in the later part of the 20th or the first part of the 21st century. None the less, when I saw the headline of Martin McKee’s article, I was hoping that science communication would be an ambition for modern public health training.

Martin McKee article2

Unfortunately, I was to be a bit disappointed. The article starts out well, stating the need to “prepare people to engage actively in a complex and changing world in ways that improve the health of the population”. So how do you prepare people to engage actively in ways that improves their health? Well, in my world that will require that you as a public health professional and public health scholar can actually communicate what you are doing, what your theories are and what findings come out of your hard work. And that you can engage into conversation and discussion with the public and subgroups of the public (e.g. policy makers, researchers in other fields). In short, that you can communicate public health sciences.

Public health science communication is not mentioned directly as one of the 7 goals. In short that goals Martin McKee lists are:

  1. Stimulate curiosity
  2. Encourage social entrepreneurs who are willing to take the initiative
  3. Make epidemiological connections and understand the biological mechanisms behind
  4. Convey the big picture, expanding Koch’s postulates or Bradford Hill’s criteria of causality with mathematical models to provide evidence of links
  5. Make public health students literate about what (and who) they are up against
  6. Engage with key decision makers at all levels and be confident to speak up.
  7. Ground human rights into public health approaches

For all seven goals, science communication plays a key role, but is only partly mentioned under goal 6, articulating the need for public health people to be confident to speak up and share their knowledge. The only other time communication is touched upon is as an encouragement for public health professionals to not just stay updated on public health news but go beyond the scientific literature:

More than ever, the public health professional needs to read the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.”

No suggestion is however broad forward about also contributing and communicating public health through these channels. Shouldn’t public health people aim to let their voice, knowledge and opinions be heard outside the ‘traditional’ public health media?

Another element missing in Martin McKee’s list is the IT reality of the 21st century and how Web2.0 already have and is still changing public health research and practice. He mentions the need for public health people to acquire a great deal more self-confidence and points out how:

with a fast internet connection, most students could do a much better job of understanding the topics they [politicians and social commentators] addressed”.

But the potential for new ways of communicating and engaging with the public broad forward by social media and other technologies is not mentioned at all.

Make public health science communication the 8th goal

Communication is almost a precondition for all other 7 goals, which is why I would argue that it deserves to be a goal in itself. Public health students should be given competences in communicating what they do, why they do it and taught how communication can benefit not only the people they are trying to help but also their own work (which then again will come to the benefit of the public). Public health is, as Martin McKee opens the article, not just a collection of different disciplines or the goals it seeks to attain. It is much more. Exactly this ‘much more’ however requires communication. Public health science cannot (meaningfully) exist in its own little universe. It only comes to life when it steps out of the public health sphere and meets the rest of the world. This, however, requires that we as public health people are dressed to meet the world and to communicate with it. Let’s make public health science communication skills the 8th goal of public health training in the 21st century.

The article by Martin McKee is unfortunately hidden behind a pay wall, but you can read an extract here: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century.

Seminar: Medicine 2.0: Social media in medical research and practice

Today, on Monday 29 October 2012, Medical Museion and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at University of Copenhagen is hosting a meeting on social media in medical research and practice.

Social media have conquered society. They are now also making their way into medical research and practice. What can doctors and researchers gain from using social media? How will these media change medical science and practice?

The meeting will kick off with 30-minute presentations by international experts in medical science communication and also active social media users:

  • Dr. Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), advocate for ”open access publishing” and very active on social media
  • Dr. Bertalan Meskó, founder of and one of the world’s leading experts in the field of medicine and social media

Following the talks, the audience will be invited to discuss with a panel, which also includes MD PhD journalist Charlotte Strøm and me who has had the honor of being refered to as a Danish specialist in medical communication Nina Bjerglund Andersen.

The event is open to everyone and will be in English. No sign-up required.

Event details:

Date: 29 October 2012, 14:00 – 16:00
Location: Haderup-auditoriet, bygning 20, Panum, Nørre Allé 20, Copenhagen
Organiser: Faculty of Health Sciences and Section for Science Communication, NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research in collaboration with the Copenhagen Graduate School of Health and Medical Sciences.
Contact: Research assistant Lasse Frank, or professor Thomas Söderqvist,, tel. 2875 3801

Students minding the science gap in public health

I have previously written about the use of blogs by students and researchers at schools of public health (I called them Schools of Public Health 2.0). One example was School of Public Health at the University of British Colombia.

This week, I came across another school of Public Health Sciences that is actively using blogging in communicating with the world, and in giving students communication skills.

For ten weeks between January and April 2012, ten Masters of Public Health students from the University of Michigan (UM), have taken on a blogging challenge. On the website Mind the Science Gap they are posting weekly articles about various public health related news, research studies etc. The aim is for the students to learn how to translate complex science into something a broad audience can understand and appreciate. The objective of this whole blogging exercise is an ambitious one:

“to help ensure that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best communicators around when it comes to translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on.”

As part of the initiative, readers of the blog have been encouraged to write comments, both on the content and the form. So-called mentors from all backgrounds have signed up to comment on a weekly basis (you can still sign up here). With the comments the aim is for the students to improve their communication skills though the ten weeks.

I have read a few of the blog post and also commented and my impression is so far very good. Both because the blog posts are interesting and well written, but also reading the many comments to each of the blogs is great. There are good tips from experienced science bloggers that others than the ten students can learn from. And then I do in general appreciate the ambitious tone of the blog initiative: ensuring that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best at translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on. Imagine if they are succesful in this. Not only will that be an advantage for the work places that will later on recruit these ten students, it could potentially put pressure on other schools of public health to make sure that their students are even better – and are they succesful in that imagine all the benefit that could be achieved to public health! Okay, maybe this is a little naive – but one can always hope…

A blogging school

In addition to Mind the Science Gap, the MU School of Public Health also has a student blog where students blog about life as students of Public Health, and a long list of blogs from several SPH faculty, alums, and student groups. For example: Rackham Graduate School blogs, run by two Ph.D. students, a Risk Science Center blog, a Public Health Library blog, a UM SPH Epidemiology Student Organization blog, the blog 2020 Science about emerging science and technology and many more (see the complete list here).

Literature review proves: web2.0+public health=public health 2.0

Being true to the main focus of this blog on Public Health Sciences Communication 2.0 it is almost obligatory that I recommend this great and extensive literature review headlined “Public Health 2.0”. The comprehensive list of 109 articles has been put together by Dean Giustini and D. Westbrook from University of British Colombia in Canada and covers in the broadest sense articles on a large range of initiatives, research studies and phenomnoners of social media and other web2.0 elements directly applied to different areas of public health. If someone doubted that there was a connection between web2.0 and public health this should make them think otherwise. And no doubt this list is only the tip of the iceberg.

The list includes articles focusing generally on web2.0 technologies and its influence on public health, but also articles with examples of the concrete use or role of different kinds of social media in public health. This includes for example articles on the use of Twitter in epidemiological studies of H1NI, the Analysis of the use of Facebook for seeking support on breast cancer and YouTube as Source of Prostate Cancer Information. The majority of the articles are focused on the analysis of the content on different platforms, thus a focus on the population generated data as sources of information, but there are also a few articles looking at how social media can be used directly by researchers and policy makers to communicate health messages and on how social media can be used as a tool for researchers and policy makers in public health to communicate with each other. The number of articles on the later is however still limited.

Dean Giustini, is a reference librarian at the Biomedical Branch Library of University of British Colombia and leads a Master’s-level course on Social Media in Health and Medicine which I have previously written about here on this blog.

For a smaller and more digestible list of articles about social media and public health Youth Health 2.0 have put together a list of 9 cool public health and social media articles.

Linking strategies to disseminate and implement public health research with social media

In a recent edition of the Journal of Health Communication the main theme was Web 2.0 and Health Communication. Among the articles was one that particular caught my attention: Dissemination 2.0: Closing the Gap Between Knowledge and Practice With New Media and Marketing. (Link to abstract on pubmed).

It is in no way a revolutionary article, but what I like about it is that it in quite simple terms tries to point out how different technologies of web 2.0 can be of use in making evidence-based research take of from the researchers desk and be not only be  shared and distributed, but also turned into practice in a world of public health. Which is I assume the ultimate goal of any researcher in public health sciences, medicine etc.

The authors take their starting point in the following:

“Significant advancements in clinical and public health research have generated an abundance of knowledge regarding evidence-based clinical and community-based interventions. However, the translation of research findings into everyday practice by clinicians and public health practitioners remains suboptimal. An abundance of evidence demonstrates that patients receive few recommended evidence-based clinical services (Lenfant, 2003; Woolf, 2008), and less than half of recommended community-based prevention strategies are widely implemented in practice (Glasgow & Emmons, 2007)”

Using what the authors discribe as the four most prominent strategies used to promote dissemination and implementation of research evidence in practice, they try to show how each strategy can benefit from various Web 2.0 and social media technologies in enhancing research dissemination and ensure that evidence-based research products reach the intended end users and are implemented in clinical practice.

The authors do in no way disregard traditional strategies for dissemination of evidence-based programs and services. Peer-reviewed journals, conference presentations etc. are and will continue to be important. But perhaps there is a new dimension to find in web 2.0:

“We believe that the interactivity, deep user engagement and multidirectional information exchange of Web 2.0 information tools can enhance the dissemination of research evidence among intended users and thus facilitate the translation of scientific evidence for effective programs and services into everyday practice.

The structure of the article is actually well illustrated by the figure below, taken from the article. The authors go through the four dissemination strategies, which are linked to different steps in the research process and highlights for each of them how things such as Wikis, blogs, tweets etc. can contribute to successful dissemination and implementation.

From Jay M. Bernhardt, Darren Mays & Matthew W. Kreuter (2011): Dissemination 2.0: Closing the Gap Between Knowledge and Practice With New Media and Marketing, Journal of Health Communication, 16:sup1, 32-44

By going through the four strategies and applying different currently existing technologies, the authors suggest that multiple media platforms can:

  • Help increase scientists’ dissemination efforts by supporting the capturing and sharing of research findings.
  • Packaging, smart tagging, and search engine optimization of resources focusing on evidence-based interventions and practices can make a different in making the research findings easier to both find and to implement.
  • They argue for how creating and linking social networks of researchers and practitioners with multidirectional informationflow can build stronger partnerships for dissemination.
  • They show how analyzing social media data about targeted practitioner end users’ behaviors and practices online can inform strategies for increasing practitioner demand for evidence-based programs and for ensuring easy access to research products.
  • They advocate for training of all professionals involved in research and practice on using Web 2.0 and social media tools, particularly in regard to how these tools can be applied to enhance the dissemination of research findings to practitioner audiences.

In their conclusions Berhardt and his colleagues argues that regardless of whether we are sceptical towards the technologies of web 2.0 or not it is something that is here to stay:

“The revolution in information and communication technology has already  fundamentally transformed fields such as banking and entertainment; therefore, it is just a matter of time until the health and medical fields are dramatically affected. These technologies, including Web 2.0 participatory applications and social media, are rapidly affecting health care consumers and have spawned a generation of e-patients who are more empowered and engaged in their care than ever before.”

It is difficult to disagree strongly with this.

Public Health 2.0 Conference in Toronto

It seems like Canada is the place to be when it comes to public health 2.0 at universities these days. University of British Colombia offers graduate classes on Social Media in Health and Medicine and University of Toronto is 23. September hosting a one-day conference on Public Health 2.0. The conference is led by graduate students from at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health as part of an annual student led conference event.

According to the conference website Public Health 2.0 will examine the use and implications of participatory technologies in public health. The conference will create a forum for students, community members and organizations, academics, and public health professionals to share their knowledge and concerns about the role of participatory technologies in public health and the practical skills required to effectively use these technologies.

Being a one-day conference it is of course limited how inclusive the programme can be, but also challenged by the fact that Public Health 2.0 is a broad topic – primarily because Public Health in itself covers so many disciplines and areas of work. The programme illustrates this very well by touching upon many different areas of public health 2.0.

The conference website has a lot of good preparational stuff. There a nice list of examples of Public Health 2.0 activities from around the world and informative background information on the different speakers.

I myself will unfortunately not be able to join, but hope that there will be some Twittering going on. Is there an assigned hashtag?

You can also follow the conference on Facebook and Twitter

Will Science Online London 2011 give answers to how the web is changing science?

Science Online London 2011 will surely not be able to give the answer to how the web is changing science. For that there are too many answers. But I do look very much forward to joining others in London 2. and 3. September to listen to different perspectives of what role the communicative possibilities web2.0 opens up for, can play in science communication, and to learn from all those who have been in this field much longer than I have.

Science Online London, organised by and Digital Science is taking place for the fourth time. The objective of the event is to explore the ways in which the Web has transformed scientific research and communication.

Coming from a public health background where multidisciplinarity is as natural as breathing, I am exited to enter into another multidisciplinary world composed of a broad spectrum of technologists, data curators, science communicators and researchers who are going to discuss issues surrounding how science is carried out and communicated online.

If you are not able to join this could be a good opportunity to try out the world of Twitter and follow #solo11 where I am sure some of the participants will be tweeting live from the event. Or you can follow the live streaming from here.

More on how Science Online London 2011 might have changed me will follow…