Author Archives: Tara Haelle

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About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Covering abortion as a health care issue
in all its complexity, politics aside

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Lisa Harris shared this slide during her presentation to illustrate the audience that is most likely to be open to new ideas or thoughts. The audiences on either side of the spectrum are entrenched in their views and unlikely to consider new information that does not support their beliefs. Image courtesy of Lisa Harris

I recently returned from the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in Baltimore — the first meeting of this professional organization since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs opinion overturned Roe v. Wade. 

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New tip sheet provides glossary of
cancer-related abbreviations

cervical cancer cells

Cervical cancer cells. Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Having now covered a number of medical conferences related to cancer, I continually find myself looking up the same acronyms and abbreviations again and again to remind myself what they mean. There are a lot of them in cancer research. Certain abbreviations are common enough that I immediately recognize them, such as OS (overall survival), PFS (progression-free survival) and NED (no evidence of disease). Others I recognize because of their use in other studies (e.g., IRB for Institutional Review Board), because they’re common procedures (e.g., ECG for electrocardiogram), or because they are the name of a cancer (CRC for colorectal cancer) or another condition (UTI for urinary tract infection).

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Why the ‘Hawthone effect’ matters
when covering medical studies

Photo by Chase Clark via Unsplash

Those familiar with basic principles in physics are likely aware of the observer effect, the phenomenon by which simply observing subatomic particles affects the behavior of those particles. If even non-sentient subatomic particles act differently when they’re being observed, imagine what that means for creatures as social and self-aware as humans. The closest corresponding effect in people is called the Hawthorne effect, the phenomenon referring to the idea that people will change their behavior in response to discovering they are being observed. 

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What journalists are missing when covering cancer research

cancer cells

The cells seen here were derived from cervical cancer cells taken in 1951 from Henrietta Lacks, a Black patient who eventually died of her cancer and who was not properly credited or compensated for her contribution to cancer research for years. (Image by Tom Deerinck, NIGMS, NIH)

Reporting on cancer research can be intimidating. So many studies are published daily about dozens of different cancers, hundreds of treatments and thousands of potential carcinogens or other environmental factors.

One challenge is reporting accurately on these studies while including appropriate context of existing research, since a single paper usually addresses one question. But before that challenge, journalists have to decide what studies to report on in the first place. A November 2020 study in PLOS ONE looked at research covered by four outlets in the U.S., U.K. and Australia and identified several areas that merit improvement.

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Journalists need support and self-care when reporting on trauma 

AHCJ Board President Felice Freyer, addresses attendees during the “Journalists and trauma: A survivor’s guide” session at HJ23. (Photo by Zachary Linhares)

A global pandemic, never-ending mass shootings, heartbreaking patient stories, an opioid epidemic, legislation that endangers people’s lives … there’s no shortage of traumatic stories in the news every day, and the journalists who report it are affected by secondary trauma from that reporting.

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