A Loss for the Medical Communication Community

By Lori Alexander posted 12-12-2018 11:39


Award_McGovern-SchwartzAlexander.jpgJust a year ago, AMWA Annual Conference attendees had the privilege of listening to Lisa Schwartz, MD, MS, and Steven Woloshin, MD, MS, deliver the 2017 McGovern Award lecture. Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin have been influential voices in efforts to improve the communication of medical evidence, especially to lay audiences. And now, one of those voices is gone.

Dr. Schwartz passed away on November 29, leaving those of us in the medical and medical communication communities shocked and saddened. Many In Memoriam articles recount her exceptional contributions to research (with Dr. Woloshin) on the science of effective risk communication; communicating information about prescription drugs; overdiagnosis; and exaggeration in presenting medical evidence. The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, home to The Center for Medicine in the Media, honored the legacy of Dr. Schwartz, who served with Dr. Woloshin as co-director of the Center. The New York Times also notes Dr. Schwartz’s passing with a captivating tribute to her abundant research and commitment to training journalists. A blog on the Association of Health Care Journalists site includes several tributes to Lisa as both a researcher and a person.

You can read about Dr. Schwartz’s work (with Dr. Woloshin) in those articles, as well as in the blog I wrote announcing the research pair as the recipients of the 2017 McGovern Award. So here, I want to share some personal thoughts.

The highlight of my professional career was meeting Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin, whom I had admired for many years because of their brilliant research. Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin were already my heroes—it’s why I selected them as the McGovern Award recipients. But when I had the honor of spending time with them at the 2017 Annual Conference, their hero status became even more elevated. I was immediately drawn to Dr. Schwartz’s passion for her research, which was rivaled only by her vibrant, engaging personality. Her razor-sharp criticism of corporate influence in public health was balanced by a warmth and compassion too often lacking in physicians or researchers.

Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin have received a wide variety of accolades for their research and publications. Despite esteemed recognition, they were ecstatic about receiving the McGovern Award. This award was special, Dr. Schwartz said, because it came from communicators. My heroes were truly honored and humbled. Evidence of how proud they were of this award can be found in the tributes to Dr. Schwartz, all of which mention the McGovern Award.

When Cyndy Kryder, 2018-2019 AMWA President, and I had lunch with Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin the day before the McGovern Award lecture, Dr. Schwartz told us a little bit about what to expect from the lecture. She asked our advice about some content because she wanted to make sure she specifically addressed AMWA members’ needs. But mostly, she wanted to know more about what we and other AMWA members did. She listened intently as we talked about our work and its challenges. She was sincerely interested and offered advice. She acknowledged the difficulties we face as writers and complimented us and AMWA on our efforts to ensure clarity and accuracy in medical communication. She and Dr. Woloshin asked how we might work together on such efforts. My heroes were down-to-earth, right down to their gift of real Vermont maple syrup from their home state.

Despite their busy careers, Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin took the time after the conference to write a comprehensive article based on their McGovern Award lecture for the AMWA Journal, bringing their essential message to a wider audience. And, in their true style of familial authorship, the third author of their article was their daughter, Emma, then a student at the University of Vermont.

The medical community has lost an outstanding leader and researcher. Our medical writing community has lost a champion for more effective communication of medical and health information. And I have lost a hero.

Our thoughts are with Dr. Woloshin and the couple’s two children, Emma and Eli.