Making a strong case for attending the upcoming AHCJ conference


Sammy Caiola, a health journalist in Sacramento, is nothing if not prepared. As far back as December, Caiola had delivered a memo to her editor, making the case to approve her attendance at Health Journalism 2018, AHCJ’s annual conference.

The Phoenix training event would be Caiola’s third AHCJ conference, and she figured her best argument was to outline exactly what she’d gotten out of the first two.

Editors can be funny people. Not in the comedic sense, but a bit persnickety. I know. I was an editor for half of my journalism career before joining AHCJ’s staff last fall.

I wanted my reporters to be on-hand, accountable and productive. At the same time, though, I wanted to support their ambitions to stretch out and contribute to the newsroom’s deepening knowledge base.

I would have fallen for Caiola’s persuasion in a New York minute. The Capital Public Radio health reporter’s detailed memo could easily serve as a template for any newsroom weighing whether to send reporters to AHCJ workshops and conferences. (In fact, we like it so much that we encourage you to submit to us what you got out of Health Journalism 2017 in Orlando. Please share with your fellow members in the comments section below.)

Sammy Caiola

Take a look at Caiola’s list of stories she wrote over the past three years that she says “were directly inspired by a conference session (not to mention the many, many similar daily stories that were informed by my knowledge from AHCJ webinars and workshops).”

“At the 2015 conference, I attended a workshop called ‘Covering Outbreaks Responsibly,’ which was mainly focused on the 2014 Ebola outbreak. As I’ve moved on to cover the Zika virus and most recently the Hepatitis A outbreak, I’ve used the information I learned there to interpret case numbers, find death tallies and delicately inform listeners about what they should (or should not) be worried about and how they can protect themselves.

“A session I attended on Latino health disparities inspired two different stories that I believe are vital to California listeners: one on the Latino assimilation paradox and another on the shortage of Spanish-speaking doctors in California.

“I learned a ton at this conference about electronic health records, which I knew nothing about before attending. They’re a relatively new way of keeping patient information digitally, but some hospitals are still struggling to make the adjustment. On top of it, digital recordkeeping has been shown to lead to medical errors, and leaves hospitals susceptible to cyberattacks – both of which I was able to produce stories about after the conference.

“At the 2017 conference, I went to three different sessions on gene editing, which really helped me build a foundational knowledge on one of the most complicated scientific developments affecting health. Out of those sessions, I produced a piece on parenting in the genomic age.

“A session on health care for transgender patients helped me prepare to write about this man’s battle for hysterectomy surgery at a religiously affiliated Sacramento hospital. And I was one of only a few journalists to attend the ‘Beyond Medicine: Spiritual Elements of Care’ session about alternative therapy. It gave me the inspiration for this unique piece about narrative therapy at the end of life.”

To top it off, Sammy had added links to all the stories she mentioned. We hope her memo inspires many others like it – and, again, don’t hesitate to share your similar experiences with fellow members in the comment section below.

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