Newsletter – October 2012

AMWA Twin Cities Discussion Group

The November 2012 and December 2012 meetings of the AMWA Twin Cities Discussion Group will not be held. Check future newsletters for updates on this group. If you have questions about future meetings, please contact Michele Burlew at mmburlew (at) comcast (dot) net.


AMWA South East Minnesota Lunch Meeting

The next lunch meeting for the AMWA SE Minnesota group is on Friday, October 26, 11:30 to 1:00. Please let June Oshiro know if you are planning to attend oshiro (dot) june (at) mayo (dot) edu, and feel free to drop in and head out as it suits your schedule.

Directions to our meeting are at

The discussion topic for this meeting is “Getting through a difficult project.” Does the project have an unbearable client? Is the work turning into a slog-a-thon? How do you manage expectations? Let’s talk about ways to keep our projects interesting and our working relationships positive.


Autumn 2012 Chapter Program

The Program Committee is pleased to invite AMWA members and guests to the autumn 2012 chapter program.
“How Good is This Manuscript?”
Reading Medical Literature With a Critical Eye
Daniel J. Weisdorf, MD
Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota

Date:            Saturday, November 3, 2012
Time:          10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. (coffee/social time 10-10:15, program at
10:15, optional lunch at a nearby restaurant afterward)
Location:  Washburn Community Library, 5244 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis
Cost:             The program is free of charge; lunch is Dutch treat
Please RSVP online by midnight Tuesday, October 30, by going to the program announcement on the chapter website, or by contacting Marty Swain at marty or 952-474-2466.


Book Club Notes: My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese
By Paul W. Mamula, PhD

The book club’s September 24th selection—My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese—provided attendees with a full plate for discussion. The book was the author’s first and is a wonderful read. It focuses on Dr. Verghese’s patients in Tennessee during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, as well as interweaving stories about his marriage, fatherhood, and medical practice.

Verghese, the son of Christian Indian school teachers, grew up in Ethiopia and came to the United States to continue his medical education. After completing a Boston residency, he took a position in an infectious disease department in Johnson City in eastern Tennessee. The choice proved to be professionally and personally rewarding because during his residency, the AIDS epidemic was just beginning and was still a novel occurrence in the central United States.

The first three chapters of the book serve as a nice précis. Verghese describes the arrival of the first AIDS patient in his town, talks about his own family, and highlights the experiences of the new and growing immigrant community. These chapters set the stage for his growing affection for life in eastern Tennessee. He illuminates the burgeoning AIDS crisis in rural America against the backdrop of his upbringing, marriage, and the Indian subculture. In all, the book offers a fascinating snapshot of the medical profession, Verghese’s friends, and the larger community’s reaction to the widening AIDS epidemic.

Book club members were struck by the frankness of the tales. Verghese experienced significant prejudices that came with treating AIDS patients. Some staff balked at working on wards where AIDS patients were cared for, many townspeople made judgments about how people contracted the disease, and some doctors and pharmacists engaged in unprofessional and unethical behavior in their dealings with patients. Nonetheless, Verghese’s skill and compassion drew patients from the surrounding area.

In the late 1980s, AIDS testing was still new and most patients only became aware of their condition after developing full-blown AIDS. They seldom lived more than two years following diagnosis, during which time they endured ever-increasing hospital visits and gradual debilitation. This pattern contrasts starkly with today’s treatment, where detecting HIV infection can allow antiviral treatment that essentially renders infection a chronic condition, rather than a fatal disease. Because of the intensive treatment his patients required, Verghese devoted long hours, including many late-night admissions. This ultimately placed a severe strain on his marriage, particularly after the birth of his son.

Many of the stories are touching and provide medicine with a human face. The frankness with which Verghese deals with colleagues behaving less-than-collegially or professionally makes the book worth reading. For those interested in reading more, Verghese has authored two other books, The Tennis Partner and a novel, Cutting for StoneThe Tennis Partner follows Verghese’s career and could be considered a sequel to My Own Country. It describes his friendship with a male medical student and their individual struggles—Verghese’s with his marriage; his friend with drug use.  Cutting for Stone was published in 2009 and became a bestseller. It tells the story of twin boys who grow up in the political turmoil of Ethiopia and become surgeons; they become estranged as they grow older, only to be reunited after a series of unexpected events. Verghese was recently in the Twin Cities to be interviewed for Minnesota Public Radio’s Talking Volumes Series. An audio version of that interview is available here.

For those interested in the origins of the AIDS crisis and the patients, researchers, and physicians involved, two additional books can serve to supplement the tales that Verghese recounts so well in his memoir. Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On provides a non-medical, personal view of the crisis with stories about the first patients and their struggles with AIDS, as well as giving a global overview. Douglas Starr’s Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce illuminates the role of infectious diseases in the blood supply by providing a fascinating look at blood banking up through the AIDS crisis. Blood vividly describes how blood and blood products are produced and offers up a fascinating account of the challenges encountered, first during World War II (hepatitis) and again in the 1980s (AIDS).

Finally, if you haven’t yet attended a book club meeting and can make the time, I recommend you do so. You’ll read an interesting book, meet other chapter members, and participate in a scintillating discussion. The book club also provides a low-key way to network. Meanwhile, enjoy the book(s).


AMWA Board of Directors Meeting October 2012

Following is a summary of the AMWA Board of Directors meeting that occurred during the fall conference in Sacramento, CA on October 3 and 6, 2012. If you have any questions regarding this report, please contact Theresa King-Hunter at hunter_tribe (at) q (dot) com.

President’s Report – Barbara Snyder, AMWA president, discussed the joint efforts of AMWA and DIA, based on the complimentary skill sets of the groups’ members. She cited this work as an early example of AMWA strategic partnerships with various sister organizations.

Secretary’s Report – Karen Klein presented a report from the previous board of directors meeting along with several proposed by-laws changes associated with criteria for president-elect and secretary positions. Additionally, changes to the Carolina Chapter by-laws to facilitate retention of their non-profit status were reviewed and approved.

Treasurer’s Report – Judith Pepin noted that while the organization had a deficit at the end of June 2012, organization reserves are more than adequate. She added that the education segment of the organization is doing very well and that enrollment in on-line and on-site classes exceeded plan the past year. Not as many members registered for this fall’s national conference. Overall, organization administrative costs were up over the past year.

During the treasurer’s report, a member of the board brought to the floor a motion to halt activities on the certification effort, and MUCH discussion ensued. The discussion by the board members keyed on two points:

  • The certification that will be offered by AMWA is not intended to meet the needs of everyone within the organization but is, instead, intended to give a “leg up” to younger members who don’t have the resume credentials already obtained by longtime AMWA members.
  • AMWA wants to ensure that any medical writer certification that is offered is “done right.” There is a concern by the organization that certification offered by another organization might not be adequate or might be done for the wrong reasons.

The motion to halt activities on the certification effort failed by a majority vote. More information on the certification effort is available on the national AMWA website. Additionally, an open session on the issue was offered at the fall conference.

Headquarter’s Report – Efforts are underway to prepare for the future of the organization with an update to the association management web systems, and the update will be implemented this summer. The new system will offer chapters the opportunity to have a web page with administrative functionality.

Special Projects – AMWA has issued a call for volunteers (“Find Yourself in AMWA”), and a volunteer interest form is available on the national website. OPERATORS ARE STANDING BY.

The 2012-2013 Executive Committee was approved, along with several committee reports. The 2013 Conference Committee issued a call for proposals (forms due by February 28).  The 2013 Annual Conference will be held in Columbus, OH on 7-9 November.