"Sometimes people think that writing isn't important, that it's just content that matters. I know I had the same attitude myself when I was in school. But not being able to write well can really limit your opportunities," says Deborah Shattuck, who teaches writing in the University of Washington's Extended MPH Degree Program. A veteran writer and editor in the field of public health, Deborah works with students one-on-one over the course of a quarter to transform a rough draft into a publishable piece of writing whether it's a newspaper article for the general public or a research paper for a professional journal. The most rewarding thing, she says, is seeing how much a piece—and a writer—can improve with just a few months of work.
Deborah learned her own writing skills on the job as an editor for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Writing for the journal, she saw first-hand the passion public health professionals bring to their work, and reported on a diverse range of topics, from the chemistry of vegetable aversion to how many pounds of pancakes a Division I football team eats for breakfast (75, plain and blueberry). In a typical article, she writes about the difficulty of maintaining an antiretroviral drug regime for HIV/AIDS patients covering science, policy, and the individual stories of patients, doctors, and dietitians. Deborah's writing paints a vivid and nuanced picture of the myriad challenges facing professionals working with patients taking antiretroviral drugs. It shows dietitians contending with rigid meal and dosage schedules, helping patients cope psychologically with alarming changes in their body shapes, and navigating byzantine legal and insurance bureaucracies—and in the process it captures the multi-faceted reality of public health work.
In 2004, Deborah became the public information specialist for the Maternal and Child Health Leadership Training Program at the University of Washington and the managing editor of Northwest Bulletin: Family and Child Health, an online newsletter that brings information about developments in maternal and child health to professionals across the Northwest region. In addition to finessing grammar and wrangling busy authors, the duties of any editor, Deborah's work includes keeping current on public policies and scientific research relating to family and child health.
Deborah's multiple roles as a writer, editor, and teacher give her a unique perspective on developments across the field of public health. She is a storyteller, an educator, and a perpetual student of her colleagues' work. As a bridge between the worlds of researchers, clinicians, policymakers, and the public, she understands how important effective communication is at every level of the public health system. Emphasizing the many elements that must combine to make this communication successful, she explains that a good health sciences writer needs to understand the scientific process, in addition to understanding the needs of different media, the personal and professional networks that comprise the public health community, and the important issues affecting the field as a whole. Given all this, it's not surprising that her first piece of advice to an aspiring young public health writer would be, "There's a lot to learn."