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Writing for an audience of Canadian doctors at the CMAJ


Yesterday the Canadian Medical Association Journal published my first article in what will, hopefully, be an ongoing relationship where I become a regular contributor. This first article is about infection prevention and control in family doctors offices. I’m pretty excited about this work. It gives me the chance to go in-depth into all kinds of health policy and to ask doctors all kinds of questions.

Writing for a specialized audience, in this case doctors, is an interesting process. All through J-school I was taught to avoid jargon and write with simple, clean language. We often used the expression “explain it to me in a way my grandmother would understand.” (As an aside, my two grandmas and one step-grandma are/were pretty smart women, raising six, six and nine kids on a shoestring budget. That seems like it would take a lot of smarts.)

When I write for doctors, I don’t have to avoid jargon to the same extent. I can use words like hypertension, instead of saying high blood pressure. I don’t have to explain what BMI (body mass index) stands for. I can use a phrase like “infection prevention and control” and everyone will know what I’m talking about.

Writing for a specialized audience isn’t an excuse for bad writing. The stories still have to be interesting. Maybe the onus to tell interesting stories is even more important for an audience of doctors and other health professionals. These are busy people with many other demands on their time. While it might be acceptable to throw in a little jargon, no one is going to read a boring story all the way to the end. Not even a doctor.

Here’s the first few paragraphs from the article, “Infectious risks in family doctor’s offices” To read the full text, click here.

What a difference a year makes.

During pandemic (H1N1) 2009, primary care providers were scurrying around offices and clinics removing books and toys from waiting rooms, positioning bottles of hand sanitizer, passing out surgical masks to patients who presented with a cough or fever and using hospital-grade disinfect to mop up floors when a suspected H1N1 case left their office or clinic.

They were, of course, following infection control guidelines established and recommended by the College of Family Physicians (CFPC) and a number of other groups during the height of the pandemic.

As the threat fades into memory, there’s an understandable tendency to hide the mops in the closet and leave the masks in the box.

But Ontario’s top infectious disease doctor is urging primary care providers to maintain aggressive infection prevention and control measures in their practices year-round…

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