Newsletter – October 2019

Greetings, North Central Members!

Welcome to the October 2019 chapter newsletter. Let us know what you think, and remember, you can also read it on the chapter website. You can find previous newsletters on the website as well. And we always welcome suggestions for newsletter topics.

In this issue:





AMWA National Conference: November 6-9, 2019

San Diego, CA

Please join us for the North Central Chapter dinner if you are attending the national conference! Contact treasurer (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org for details.

Book Club: January 27, 2020

The Egg and I, 2550 University Ave, St Paul 55114

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer


Our next book club is on January 27, 2020, at 11 am at The Egg and I, 2550 University Ave, St Paul, just west of Highway 280. We will discuss Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. Even if you haven’t read the book, join us to have a quick lunch or brunch and meet AMWA members. See you there!

By 9 a.m. the morning of January 27, please email Book Club coordinator Paul Mamula to let him know you’re coming: paulpat (at) pclink (dot) com.


Take an Active Role — Volunteer!

Volunteers Needed!

AMWA North Central is a volunteer-based organization. If members don’t take an active role, the chapter will cease to function, and members will lose access to programming, news, and networking opportunities. Consider taking your turn to lead (or join) a committee or serve as a chapter officer. Online elections will be held in September for the officer positions, so please nominate yourself or let us know if you know anyone who may be interested!

These positions are open:

President: The President participates in a 1-year term: leading the chapter’s processes with help from the past president and president-elect.

Treasurer: The Treasurer (3-year term) manages the chapter checking account, develops the annual budget in collaboration with the president and president-elect, contributes to semi-annual reports, completes IRS filing, and when needed, helps other committees establish a budget for large events. The current treasurer’s term will overlap with the incoming treasurer’s term to teach you about the position.

Finance Committee Chair: The Finance Committee Chair coordinates the annual audit of the chapter’s financial records at the close of the fiscal year (July) and reports the findings to the Chapter Treasurer.

Not ready or able to lead a committee? All our committees welcome members to share ideas and keep the workload light.

In addition to keeping our group viable, volunteering with AMWA is a great way to network with your fellow members. It’s also a good way to fortify your C.V. with an extra line showing how you give back to your profession! If you can volunteer a few hours a month to help, contact our president, Lisa Poppenberg: president (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org

Note from AMWA National

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Book Club Notes: Better by Atul Gawande

By Paul W. Mamula, PhD

Our book club met for the annual dinner meeting on September 30, 2019, at La Casita in Roseville where we discussed Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. This book is a sequel of sorts to his first book, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, which was our first book club selection in January 2007. Last year, we read his book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

The Book

Better is a compilation of articles, some of which appeared in different form in other publications, including The New Yorker and The New England Journal of Medicine. The book is only 273 pages long, but effectively covers diverse topics in 3 sections of 3 chapters, with each section having a unifying theme (Diligence, To Do Right, Ingenuity). An introduction, a brief notes section, and acknowledgments round out the volume. The book is nontechnical and can easily be read in one sitting. The chapters can also be read out of order, since each one addresses a different topic. Mary Knatterud said, “I loved Gawande’s humanistic tone, so evident in all of his other books that I’ve read and also in person when I heard him speak at the University of Minnesota Medical School a number of years ago. He’s just such a humble, empathetic professional, on the page and in the flesh.”

Three Favorite Chapters

“The Mop-Up” focuses on efforts to eradicate polio in India. It illustrates the difficulties that vaccination program workers face in a country where many hold a deep-seated suspicion of government public health efforts. The front seat view of the logistical problems faced in rural areas was revelatory, while the efforts of Dr Pankaj Bhatnagar, a WHO pediatrician who led the teams, were encouraging. The chapter remains relevant today, even for developed countries, as many educated people have an unfounded mistrust of vaccines and refuse to vaccinate their children.

The chapter on cystic fibrosis (“The Bell Curve”) was captivating because it highlighted a Minnesota connection. Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder that results in faulty chloride transport, leading to congested lungs and eventually lung and multiple-organ failure. Gawande profiled programs that were successful in lengthening patients’ lives and highlighted what made some hospitals better at doing so. Advances in treatment have allowed patients to live much longer, from the early teens in the 1960s to the mid-thirties. However, in the best programs, such as the University of Minnesota, cystic fibrosis patients can live to age 47 or longer (as of 2003 when this essay was written), because the Minnesota program employs innovative methods, including having patients use a vibrating vest to loosen accumulated mucus and mitigate congestion and infections. He presents both patients’ and medical professionals’ viewpoints, explaining how difficult it was to get hospitals to share data in order to improve care. Once hospitals shared information, they were able to improve care and lifespans for patients.

I was fascinated by Gawande’s description of his negotiation for his first medical staff position (“Piecework”) and his challenges setting up a practice. A thoughtful and reasoned chapter, it presents aspects that get little consideration in media. Although many individuals complain about physicians’ incomes, few consider the long duration of a specialty residency, the cost involved, and the many additional expenses to begin a practice—a high malpractice insurance premium is one that I never considered. In Gawande’s case, he had trouble getting a good estimate of what to ask for a salary, because few physicians were willing to tell him their incomes. Additionally, his position at a university hospital would only provide 3 years of guaranteed salary. After that, he would have to rely on whatever he earned in his position.

Advice for Writers and Editors

Knatterud’s favorite sentence—which she noted “should make all of us medical editors and writers feel good about our chosen career, even when it seemingly consists of ‘fragments’ of disconnected scholarship”—is on page 255, where physicist John Ziman is quoted: “The invention of a mechanism for the systematic publication of ‘fragments’ of scientific work may well have been the key event in the history of modern science.”

Knatterud added, “I was inspired by Gawande’s advice to ‘Write something …. Just write. What you write need not achieve perfection. It need only add some small observation about your world.’ To that sage advice, I would add, ‘Get together….Just talk,’ as in the group of overwhelmed surgeons in an impoverished hospital in India who ‘found time between cases to take a brief late-afternoon break at a café across the street…and swapped stories about their cases of the day’”(“For Performance,” p 244).

Up Next

Our next book club is on January 27, 2020, at 11 am at The Egg and I, 2550 University Ave, St Paul, just west of Highway 280. We will discuss Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. Even if you haven’t read the book, join us to have a quick lunch or brunch and meet AMWA members. See you there!

Read A Good (Halloween) Book(s)?: Frankenstein and Making the Monster

By Paul W. Mamula, PhD

Before seeing Barbara Field’s play Frankenstein: Playing With Fire last fall, I browsed the gift shop and purchased Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley and Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup. Field’s play retells Shelly’s story with the monster playing a much more prominent role than in Shelley’s short novel. The play was originally commissioned by the Guthrie Theater in 1988 and revived on its 30th anniversary (NB: I had originally planned to write this piece for the newsletter last October!). I had first read Shelley’s novel in high school but couldn’t remember much more than the basic plot, and the play offered up such a different perspective more in line with Shelley’s book than what we typically conjure up at the mention of “Frankenstein.” Harkup’s book looked interesting, too, as a contrasting book.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein arose from a contest among Shelley, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (her lover and future husband), Lord Byron, and John Polidori to see who could write the best ghost story. Shelley’s story derived from a dream she had about a man who creates life but is dissatisfied with his creation. Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, and reedited and republished the novel in 1831. The latter version has become the definitive version. Shelley’s short book is as much philosophy as it is fiction—it reflects many ideas of the Enlightenment, 19th century science, and philosophy. The book furthered her career as a writer, then an uncommon profession for women. Frankenstein is told from Victor Frankenstein’s perspective, and his creature actually appears mostly in the background. The classic Universal Studios film adaptation of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff as the monster is much different from the one that appears in Shelley’s novel.

Making the Monster by Kathryn Harkup takes the reader through Frankenstein chapter by chapter and explains the science of the day, tracing what went into the monster’s creation, including preservation, electrification, and reanimation, among others, while contrasting it with contemporary science. The book begins by reviewing many of the contemporary issues of Shelley’s time, such as societal norms, existing laws, and European geography, while also providing insight into Mary Shelley’s life and why the novel was such a sensation. For history buffs, book offers lots fascinating details, and for those without a history background, it presents a nice backdrop for Shelley’s work, a book now regarded as the first work of “science fiction.” Harkup’s last chapter recounts how many movies and references to Frankenstein have taken place since then. She also provides a timeline in a short epilogue that traces Mary Shelley’s life and her world in a handy 3-column format. Harkup’s book is also short and offers something for scientist and classicist alike–a fun analysis of a classic. Both books are good reading for older “trick or treaters” and more “treats” appear elsewhere.* Happy Halloween!**

*Additional Frankenstein Treats:

Saadawi A. Frankenstein in Baghdad. Penguin Random House: New York, 2018 (Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction; a new take on the Frankenstein story)

Staff writers. Our Favorite Monster Turns 200. New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Oct 28, 2018, pp 1, 16-18 (A special section with more facts about Shelley, her novel, and its impact in print, film, and literature).

**Note: This article also appeared in slightly edited form in Professional Editors Network (PEN) Networking News under the title “Read Any Good Halloween Books Lately?)

Have you read a good book lately?

Whether you’ve read a professional/technical, biomedical/science nonfiction, or fiction book that you think other chapter members may enjoy, share a short review with us. Write a paragraph or a few about what you liked about the book, how it might be good for medical writers to read, or how it might fill a need. Send your submissions to