Innovative project enables Georgia journalism students to shine a light on rural health issues

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Patricia Thomas, University of GeorgiaJournalism students from the University of Georgia share highlights of their days reporting on rural health issues.

If you think reporting in remote areas of the country is hard – think access, time and travel – try doing it with nearly a dozen people, half a dozen cars and a tight deadline.

That’s what Patricia Thomas did earlier this year, leading nine students and one editor into southwestern Georgia, a rural and remote part of the state where geography can significantly affect residents’ health and challenge providers and local officials.

Thomas, the head of the University of Georgia graduate program in health and medical journalism, wanted her students to report first hand on the challenges and triumphs of people living in that part of the state. And she knew the only way to do that was to get them there.

So, six rental cars later, she did.

Not only did the group have to arrange logistics, but had to simultaneously refine their reporting projects, nail down research and arrange interviews. Along with former AHCJ board member Andy Miller, Thomas guided her group not only through the roads of the state’s remote corner, but also through the reporting challenges of tackling the social determinants of health care in the region.

It turned out to be a reporting adventure that resulted in nine strong pieces on everything from food insecurity and mental illness to HIV and tick management. Their series, “Place Matters: SW Georgia Health 2016,” shows just how geography can impact health.

For Thomas, a writer and editor specializing in science, health and medicine who joined UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2005, the trip also proved to be a testament to how eager and inspired journalism can help bring often untold stories to life.

Read Thomas’ How I Did It essay to learn how she and her students pulled off this successful project.

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