Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Makes You an Expert?

Every so often, I get emails from people who would like to get into writing, specifically health writing or medical editing. Many are nurses who can no longer work clinically in such a physically demanding job. Others are people who are just interested in the whole idea of working with words.

I didn't follow the usual route into writing as a profession, so I don't know how helpful my advice is. I don't have a background in journalism nor did I study writing, so all I can offer is a bit of insight as to how I got to where I am.

Recently, a person who asked for advice also asked, "What makes you an expert?" That question caught me off guard.

Does someone need to be an expert to write about a topic or in a niche? That brings about the question, can you/should you only write about what you know or have experienced? If that was the case, there would be so many fewer books in the world, don't you think? There would be no science fiction, no history books, no fiction. Would Shakespeare (or whomever is taking credit for his work these days) have written Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet? Would Douglas Adams have written The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

I don't think you need to be an expert in a field to write about it - to a certain extent. In my case, I'm comfortable in writing in a niche with which I am familiar. I write about health issues for the general public and I write general health and medical articles or texts for allied health professionals (nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists, for example). But I can't/don't write very specific medical or scientific texts because they are beyond my knowledge base and something that I would find it very difficult to learn. Mind you, if I had to and if I really wanted to, I'm sure I could.

Much of being a writer is knowing how to do research. Knowing where to look and how to find and use the information that you have discovered. You also have to be able to accept that you will make mistakes and correct them when you do. If someone points out an error in your writing, fix it and move on. Learn from it. If you know all this, then there is no reason why you can't write in a subject that is outside your comfort zone.

Health writing has been very good to me. I love what I do. I have great clients and I love learning new things when I get new clients and assignments. It will always be my bread and butter when it comes to my work. But, I have also wanted to break out of health writing for a while, trying to heed my own advice of reaching beyond my own borders. I was thrilled when I had a few articles published about quilting. While I'm not an expert at quilting, I've been doing it for over 20 years now and I do know more than a few things about the craft. I'd like to do more writing outside health and I'm confident it will come. I just don't know when.

I know writers who became very knowledgable in real estate, small business, even engineering issues although they knew nothing about those topics before they started. They did interviews, they read pages and pages of information, they asked questions - they learned. After a while, they became expert enough in the area that they became sought after by editors who wanted the writers' experience. It can be done.

So, what makes me an expert? Nothing. I know how to look for information, how to ask for help - and that is what is important. And if writing is what you want to do, if you have the basic concepts of how to write well and effectively, don't let the lack of expertise stop you. Give it a try. You never know where it will lead you.


Recommendations for aspiring writers:


The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success (The Renegade Writer's Freelance Writing series)

The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels

Freelance writers' community: 

Freelance Success

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Long Should Staff Perform CPR?

Have you ever done CPR? I have, more times than I can remember. All times but one have been in an hospital or long-term care facility, but once was on the street - on Halloween 26 years ago.

There isn't a set time for how long doctors and nurses perform CPR in a hospital. A lot depends on the condition the patient is in when he or she arrests in the first place, but the decision is based, ultimately, on when the doctor in charge decides to "call it." The doctor has noted how much time has passed, what procedures have been tried, and the patient's diagnosis. Based on this information, he or she decides if it is time to stop.

It may seem like a cold decision to make. It's not. It's not an easy decision in most cases. Doing CPR is hard work - physically and emotionally. Trying to save someone's life and not succeeding take a toll on you. It's not what is supposed to happen when you go into a profession that is supposed to save lives.

A study was published in Lancet earlier this month that looked at how long CPR was performed in various hospitals across the United States. According to a press release issued by the University of Michigan Health System,

"After examining national data for more than 64,000 cardiac arrest patients between 2000 and 2008, the researchers found that while most patients were successfully resuscitated after a short period of time, about 15 percent of patients who survived needed at least 30 minutes to achieve a pulse."

This is an important finding because the average time staff perform CPR can range from a short median time of 16 minutes to a longer median time of 25 minutes. Many doctors don't like to do CPR for what they consider too long because they are afraid of brain damage occurring if the patient does recover.

According to the study findings, those patients who survived in hospitals that tended to have longer CPR effort times were 12% more likely than those patients in hospitals with shorter times to recover and go home.

Steven L. Kronick, M.D., M.S., one of the paper's authors, U-M emergency department physician head of the U-M's CPR committee, agrees and says the research should be a part of ongoing efforts directed toward improving care for cardiac arrest patients.

"The optimal resuscitation duration for any individual patient will continue to remain a bedside decision that relies on careful clinical judgment," he says. "Overall, we believe these findings present an opportunity to improve resuscitation care, especially at a systems-level."

Longer CPR Benefits -