NIH’s Medicine in the Media Course – Time to Go Big

The NIH is doing it’s best to get science writers on the right track when it comes to responsible health reporting by holding an annual course on Medicine in the Media.

The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Medical Applications of Research (OMAR) presents a free annual training opportunity to help develop journalists’ and editors’ ability to evaluate and report on medical research. The course curriculum builds on the best of prior years’ offerings to create an intensive learning experience with hands-on application.

When I read about the course on Gary Schwitzer’s tweet stream, I got really excited and started scouring the NIH course site to listen to some of the fabulous speakers in the 2011 course, which just finished in July. I was disappointed to discover that that the course, while free, is by application only, limited to 50 participants and not broadcast or archived on the web.

While limiting the course this way will certainly serve to create an elite group of science reporters, it won’t help the thousands of local news outlets playing “pass on the press release” health reporting that continues to be the main feeding source for health information for so many Americans.

Here’s a call to the NIH to open up its course content to the public and the media at large, in the same way that so many of its events are broadcast and archived. Imagine if every health editor and reporter were to take the course online. And while we’re at it, how about every medical center and university employee responsible for writing press releases? In a very short time we could have major impact on the quality of health reporting in this country. Which would translate into a better informed public.

Now that’s my tax dollars at work.

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