Doing Medical Research as an Author

I’m a technical writer, but I also write books for families who are coping with children’s medical issues (The Parents’ Guide to Clubfoot  and The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia).

If you’re a writer who is researching a medical topic, it’s important to find accurate, reliable sources of information. I often start with the National Institute of Health (NIH) website, which has very good health information for consumers. If I want more depth, I go to Pubmed.  Pubmed is the online U.S. Library of Medicine, which is geared toward medical professionals. Medline  is another good online resource associated with the NIH.

Anyone can visit websites like Pubmed and Medline to search the medical databases and read abstracts of medical journal articles. When I’m doing research, I cut and paste each abstract for the articles that I want to read into a Word document so that I have a list.

The problem that arises is that unless you subscribe to the medical journals, in many cases there’s a fee to get each complete article. This can get expensive pretty fast. When I was working on my first book, a friend in the medical field told me about community health libraries, and a whole new world opened up to me.

Community health libraries are wonderful resources. They have health and medical books and brochures about many health topics. The staff can help you find information that you might not discover on your own, and show you how to use medical databases. Even if the library is small, the staff typically has access to health resources at other locations

On top of all that, researching at community health libraries can save you money. Typically, they can get you full medical articles without charging you for access. If you want a printout to take home with you, there’s usually a small fee to cover the cost of making copies.

I recently visited the PlaneTree Health Information Center located inside the Cupertino Library, which is new to this location. I was doing research for a nonfiction book I’m going to be working on this summer. The staff was friendly and helpful. If you don’t live near the Cupertino Library and want to visit a community health library at a different location, ask your doctor’s office to recommend one.

Writing Nonfiction

Hi, I’m Betsy Miller.

I write both nonfiction and fiction. I recently wrote a nonfiction piece for the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI). You can read it at the following link:
http://www.hipdysplasia.org/Patient-Stories/Infant-and-Child/Isabelle/default.aspx

Some parents wanted to share their experiences with their young daughter Isabelle’s hip dysplasia treatments. This sort of content can be tremendously helpful to other parents, but it can be confusing, especially in this case since several surgeries were involved.

To make this piece easier to navigate and less confusing, this is what I did.

  1. Wrote a hopeful title for the piece.
  2. Edited the parents’ comments for length, conciseness, and sequence being careful to maintain their meaning and focus.
  3. Recommended where to put images to support the text.
  4. Put in headings for the different treatments.
  5. Wrote text explaining what the surgeries entailed, revising content from the surgeon into everyday language as much as possible. I asked that this content be formatted differently from the personal experience text. The IHDI decided to set off the explanatory text with a different color background.

I’m really pleased with how it turned out. This is a work for hire piece. That is a common arrangement for website content. The finished piece belongs to the IHDI, which paid me when the work was done. There’s no byline, which is also common in work for hire arrangements with businesses or organizations.