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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  

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TB Notes Newsletter

No. 4, 2005

Knight Public Health Journalism Fellowship

As a journalist selected for a Knight Journalism fellowship, Rachel Cohen worked this summer alongside scientists in a project designed to raise the quality of health reporting. She was based with CDC in Atlanta, in the Division of Tuberculosis Elimination (DTBE). This fellowship is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in partnership with the CDC Foundation. The goals of the Knight Journalism fellowships at CDC are to raise the quality of medical and public health reporting in the United States and abroad and to fill critical gaps in training for journalists by helping them develop the skills needed to analyze and report on public health problems, policies, and practices. The need for journalists to understand public health has increased with the advent of outbreaks of illnesses such as SARS, avian flu, and mad cow disease. These subjects require not just the ability to write about complex ideas in an understandable format, but the ability to interpret complex scientific data. That is exactly what the Knight Journalism Program at CDC provides—training, coursework, and field experiences in public health that help journalists better understand and translate these complex issues for the public.

This year’s fellows all worked in different focus areas, including malaria, air pollution, HIV prevention, and breast cancer screening. The group members had diverse journalistic backgrounds, and two were from overseas.

Prior to starting the fellowship, this year’s five Knight fellows and a dozen other journalists with health reporting careers convened for a week-long public health “boot camp” in Decatur, close to Atlanta. They learned from daily epidemiology and biostatistics lectures and met experts from several CDC divisions, including DTBE’s Dolly Katz, an epidemiologist. She presented the history of TB, discussed today’s affected populations, and distributed tuberculin skin test (TST) rulers to demonstrate the challenges in reading and interpreting test results. Inspired, Rachel chose to work in DTBE.

Rachel is an award-winning magazine news writer, and she has also worked in broadcast journalism. In the course of her career, she has reported for the biweekly newspaper of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and has held positions at the Discovery Networks and the Travel Channel. She currently resides in San Francisco. Funding from the California Wellness Foundation supported her participation in the 5-day boot camp and the ensuing 3-month fellowship.

As an introduction to the unit, DTBE’s scientific and program administration staff invited Rachel to attend two conferences in Atlanta to immerse her in current scientific knowledge and practices surrounding tuberculosis. She attended the 2005 National TB Controllers Workshop in June and the QuantiFERON-TB Gold conference in July. In August, Rachel traveled to South Georgia to work with a local clinic that was testing new research and outreach efforts for Hispanic persons under the auspices of the CDC. She shadowed DOT workers at Atlanta’s Fulton County TB clinic. She also chose to focus on and study the development of TB prevention programs and new diagnostic tools. In September, she was able to spend 9 days in Botswana, in southern Africa, where TB clinics are testing a TB therapy and new diagnostic tool.

Visiting Botswana enabled Rachel to observe the clinical trial process with the team of nurses, data managers, lab technicians, and study supervisors. These experts generously explained established models for running clinical trials as well as common systematic and behavioral obstacles to the success of clinical trials, such as data management, patient confidentiality, recruitment, and adherence. Having the time to study these issues in depth increased Rachel’s understanding of the scientific facts and practicalities involved. She also came to realize how factors such as drought, HIV infection, Botswana’s high unemployment rate, and the unstable leadership in neighboring countries can affect daily life and health.

Rachel seized the opportunity to absorb these facts and details that will allow her as a journalist to educate and inform the nonscientific community. She has learned from this fellowship how to prepare in order to understand and write about science issues, such as where and of whom in the CDC community to ask questions, and she has a team of supportive co-fellows to call on for advice. Rachel ended the program in September with several ideas for stories and with support from DTBE to write them. She greatly appreciates the support of DTBE in providing this eye-opening experience that allowed her to further develop her reporting skills and learn to better engage the public in health matters.

—Reported by Rachel Cohen
Knight Public Health Journalism Fellow

 


Released October 2008
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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