Thursday, December 24, 2009

Five Reasons Why Allied Health Faculty Should Use Social Media

For the longest time I put off doing anything with Twitter. In fact, I opened an account only after a co-worker, the wonderful and prescient Kirk Pedrick, kept bugging me about it. And I hated it. Thought it was stupid. Boy, was I wrong. Not only is Twitter enormously useful—if it's used properly—so are many other social media, particularly Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs of people in your field. (I haven't done anything with wikis yet, so I left them off my list.)

Turned out that I was using Twitter improperly. I didn't understand it and didn't give it a good enough try. Same thing with Facebook, which I initially found was fine, not bad, okay for maintaining contact with old friends, but that's about it. I saw little value for my business interests.

Wrong again. I think Facebook and Twitter both have enormous potential, not just for me, as an acquisitions editor, but the more I use them, for allied health faculty and students as well. Here are my top five reasons why.

  1. Collates news you're interested in. It doesn't take much time on Twitter to realize that news pertinent to you gets to you fast, without you having to rummage through tons of newspapers, magazines, and the like. Here's an example from today. I noticed a post on Twitter about a study in England that caught my eye, a study about kids who blog, text, or use social networking websites being more confident about their writing skills. The article came from the BBC, which I never watch. But the study is interesting and directly applicable to schools everywhere, and not just for children. I believe that our college students can improve their writing skills using social media as well.

  2. Now, I doubt I would have seen that article if it hadn't been for Twitter. I doubt you would have seen it either if it wasn't for this blog entry. But I saw immediately its potential impact on how we teach allied health students in our community and career colleges, and I'll bet you can see it too. Twitter. didn't keep this news to myself, of course. I "retweeted," so people who follow my tweets (those poor buggers) would see it too. And I posted the link on my business Facebook page so my friends—allied health faculty, practitioners, authors, and colleagues—could learn about it too.

  3. Opens new avenues of thought. I've begun to think a bit differently now that I'm using social media. It's hard to define but I think mostly I've become more creative in my job. I've always been creative, a trait my superiors have consistent lauded, but after so many years in the publishing business I think perhaps I had begun to get stale. I kept track of trends but mostly after the trend had gained solid ground. Now I'm following trends as they happen. I'm also finding and learning things I never would have found and learned before purely as a result of being exposed to the thoughts and news posts of so many people I never would have encountered in any other setting. I think the same thing would have to ring true for other professions, particularly teaching in allied health care.

  4. I'm writing again. That may not seem like much to you but it's huge for me. As an acquisitions editor I write constantly. Constantly. But I'm writing e-mails, mostly, or contract notes, a formal document we prepare for our decision-making group when we have a new book we want to publish. Contract notes are rather formulaic and require little creativity. But this blog, which I'm hoping will grow into something my authors and potential authors will find useful, helps feed my desire to write. Facebook and Twitter help feed that desire as well, while also serving what I hope will be an ever-growing circle of followers, some of whom might choose to write for me and F.A. Davis over a competitor because they've come to know me a bit and trust what I have to say.

  5. It makes good business sense. I use Facebook and Twitter and write this blog to attract potential authors, find new authors and reviewers, and keep in touch with the markets I serve. Pretty straightforward, don't you think? Wouldn't it stand to reason that, say, medical assisting program directors who tweet and maintain a Facebook site or blog might attract potential new students and faculty members simply or even largely because of their presence in social media? I think it does, and I think with these media only growing in popularity, now is the time to get on the bandwagon. Give yourself time to work out the kinks, to get used to using social media, to build a content base, and to build up your cadre of friends and followers. It just makes sense.

  6. It makes good pedagogical sense. According to the National School Boards' Association, social media should be adapted for use in the classroom because:

  • 96% of students with access to the Internet build social networks.

  • 50% of teens say they talk to their peers about schoolwork online (IM, blog or social networking sites) or via text messages.

  • 60% indicate that they discuss education-related topics, such as college and career planning.

    • Your students use social media constantly. Why? Because they find it engaging, interesting, informative, and just plain fun. So why not implement the same media for pedagogical purposes? It makes absolutely NO SENSE not to.

      Next blog: The Drawbacks of Social Media in Schools and How to Deal with Them

      Monday, December 21, 2009

      Hey, NANDA! Watch Your Language!

      This one is a beaut. DotMed News carried a story a few days ago about the need for a standardized nursing language, about which I totally agree. Then the article quoted T. Heather Herdman, PhD, RN, Executive Director of NANDA International (NANDA-I). This organization, according to its website, "exists to develop, refine and promote terminology that accurately reflects nurses' clinical judgments." In the article Herdman discussed the value of standardized terminology in the effort to reduce largely preventable errors and accidents, including falls, medication errors, sponges left in abdominal cavities after surgery, and so forth.

      Here's where my pain comes in. She is quoted as saying, "A patient care plan written in a language that is understood by all will reduce the risk of never events. It is critical that this point is not lost as we tackle avoidable errors in patient care."

      Did I hear her correctly? "Never events"? That's what the profession is calling a med error? What are we, the military?

      The term never event makes about as much sense as friendly fire. Why don't we call these problems preventable events? It's so much clearer. But no, we're calling them never events, a term purposely designed to mislead. Now, admittedly Dr. Herdman didn't make up the term herself; it has been around for several years. But I think that if NANDA's core goal focuses on the proper use of terminology, it ought not fall prey to such noxious jargon as never events.

      Shame on you, NANDA!

      Common Confusables: Since & Because

      This one may turn out to be a losing cause, but I'd like to fight to keep it "old school."

      These two words are commonly misused, even by intelligent, articulate writers and speakers. Here's how to use them correctly:

      Because is used when providing a reason for something. "I went to the store because we needed milk."

      Since is used when dealing with time. "We've needed milk since this morning."

      Unfortunately a great many people use since as a replacement for because. I'm not sure why, but that's the way it is, which leads me to think that eventually, if it hasn't happened yet, the two words will be considered officially synonymous. Bummer, man.

      Common Confusables: Introduction

      This post introduces a periodic look at words and phrases commonly confused, abused, and misused in our endlessly variable vernacular. I hope to present a Common Confusables post every week, and for your enjoyment I present the first one, Regime & Regimen.

      Regime & Regimen

      You've heard of several "fitness regimes," haven't you? Of course you have, they're all over the place. Same with "diet regimes." And even US Representatives have been heard asking—in this case NC Rep. Virginia Foxx asking of Roger Clemens about steroid use—"Mr. Clemens, maybe you'd like to talk about your regime and how hard you work?"

      Okay, um, no!

      Clemens doesn't have a regime, okay? Really, he doesn't. He may think he does, but he doesn't. What he has is a regimen. Huge difference. Huge.

      A regimen is a regular course of action or treatment or a period of training or schooling, as in "My morning regimen includes a brisk walk." Or, "This program has an aggressive learning regimen."

      A regime is a political system, as in "Saddam Hussein's regime was finally taken out of power." Or, "Our principal is a jerk. I think we should work toward a regime change. Wanna?"

      So let's have no more of these fitness regimes, okay, Andy Green? Jennifer Scott? Women

      No more diet regimes, okay, Dr. Kiki Sidhwa? OK! Magazine? And Encyclopedia.Com?

      Stop the madness!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Friday, December 18, 2009

      Fear and Language Changes

      Lots of factors drive changes in a language. New technologies is a key factor nowadays. Laziness, in a way, accounts for some changes too, contractions being a prime example. But sometimes fear does it too.

      I've been noticing the last few years an overwhelming number of otherwise intelligent people who use "more" instead of adding "-er" to a word. For instance, I've heard "more clean" instead of cleaner, "more firm" instead of firmer, and even "more funny" instead of funnier. I've also seen these kinds of phrases in printed media, from ads to blogs to newspapers and magazines. And don't even get me started on the number of news anchors and other TV personalities who do the same thing when speaking off the cuff.

      It seems that people have become so reluctant to take a crack at the correct -er word that they automatically shift to the more construct. Do these people not read? Did they attend lousy schools? Did they have teachers who didn't know the difference themselves? Or did they, as I think might be the case, struggle with learning the -er words and, on top of that, have teachers and parents who corrected them so often that they just gave up, deciding to use the more construct, regardless of what they think the correct one is?

      I don't know, but I'm wondering whether this observation is an indication of a shift in our language toward the more construct in all cases. Hmmmm.

      Patient-Centered Medical Homes

      The Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) is an approach to providing comprehensive primary care for children, youth and adults. The PCMH is a health care setting that facilitates partnerships between individual patients, and their personal physicians, and when appropriate, the patient’s family. Don Balasa, President of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), recently gave a speech on the role MAs will play in this fascinating and dynamic new approach in medical care.

      To read the document Don presented, click PCMH_presentation_09.

      Here is a fact sheet (PCMH_Fact_Sheet_Apr01) of PCMH from NCQA.

      Check also the Joint Principles of the PCMH.

      Thursday, December 17, 2009

      Simplifying Your Writing, Episode 1: Because

      The reason for this post, that is, insofar as this post is concerned, due to the fact that this post is being posted at all; that is, in light of the fact that it is being posted in the first place, this post is being posted on the grounds that it is a post.

      Ugh. As the great E.B. White said so eloquently, "Avoid unnecessary words."

      All of the following awful phrases can be replaced by just one word: Because (or in some instances why). Try it.

      • for the reason that

      • insofar as

      • in as much as

      • due to the fact that

      • owing to the fact that

      • in light of the fact that

      • considering the fact that

      • on the grounds that

      Wednesday, December 16, 2009

      Weaving Definitions Into Text

      Many inexperienced healthcare writers struggle to define newly introduced terms without using the same technique over and over or without sounding incredibly boring. Take heart. Writing is more a craft than a science, after all, and just as there is more than one way for a taxidermist to skin a cat, there is also more than one way for writers to weave definitions into text. Here are just a few techniques, showing an example statement with a new term, an edited version, and a short explanation of the technique itself. I've used boldface to indicate new terms. Many publications and most textbooks use boldface formatting to indicate new terms, so the reader can spot them quickly.

      Comma-offset with "or"

      Original: An individual's complaint of headache should not be minimized or unthinkingly treated with analgesics before the underlying cause has been determined.

      Edited: An individual's complaint of headache should not be minimized or unthinkingly treated with painkillers, or analgesics, before the underlying cause has been determined.

      Technique: Swapping out an unfamiliar term with a familiar one works well for articles geared for the lay public. Then just add a comma and "or" before the medical term.

      "a condition in which"

      Original: The prognosis is guarded if the embolism is massive enough to trigger a pulmonary infarction (which occurs in about 10 percent of cases).

      Edited: The prognosis is guarded if the embolism is massive enough to trigger a pulmonary infarction, a condition in which lung tissues die and which occurs in about 10 percent of cases.

      Technique: The phrases "a condition in which," "a disease in which," and similar phrases can really help you out of a jam. One of the best editors I ever worked for, the late and wonderful Vince Marteka, once told me that when space is at a premium, if you can't readily explain how something happens, then explain what happens. That's basically the formula here. Rather than a detailed explanation of how a pulmonary infarct occurs, I just explained the end result (death of lung tissue). That's often the only thing the reader needs at that point anyway.

      Parenthetical definitions

      Original: This involves removing the embolus or ligation or plication of the vena cava to prevent the migration of new emboli into the pulmonary circulation.

      Edited: This involves removing the embolus completely. It may also involve a tying off (ligation) or folding over (plication) of the vena cava surgically to prevent the migration of new emboli into the pulmonary circulation.

      Technique: This is a simple technique but one that shouldn't be overused. Parenthetical phrases tend to wear the reader out after awhile. Oh, and most publications prefer placing common terms first and scientific terms second, but others prefer the reverse.

      "commonly called"

      Original: In adults, the obstruction is more often acquired, resulting from blockage by uroliths or neoplasms.

      Edited: In adults, the obstruction is more often acquired, resulting from blockage by neoplasms or uroliths, commonly called kidney stones.

      Technique: This is a fun and easy technique that requires only the addition of a comma and phrase, such as "commonly called," "otherwise known as," or "typically named."

      Multiple terms in same sentence

      Original: As the lumen of the coronary artery narrows, gradual ischemia causes cells in the myocardium to weaken and die.

      Edited: As the opening, or lumen, of the coronary artery narrows, the reduced blood flow deprives cells in the myocardium (heart muscle) to weaken and die, a condition called ischemia.

      Technique: You can introduce several terms in one sentence but not without really thinking it through. Generally I advise limiting new terms to two per sentence. If you find you need more, you might want to break the sentence into parts. Whatever you decide, try to vary the technique used when introducing a term to avoid sounding repetitive.

      Separate sentences

      Original and a good way to do it:
      Otitis media is an accumulation of fluid within the structure of the middle ear. The condition is subclassified into either serous or suppurative categories, according to the composition of the accumulating fluid. In serous otitis media, the fluid…. In suppurative otitis media, the fluid….

      Technique: When you have several new terms, keep their definitions simple for the reader by breaking up the sentences. There is no substitute for clarity.

      Learn these methods (or keep a copy of this blog handy) and you'll be breezing through those definitions in no time.

      Could You Care Less, Really?

      A good friend of mine is wont to exclaim, "I could care less what she thinks."

      And that's fine, but by saying that he "could care less," he actually is saying sure, he could care less if he wanted to, but he doesn't want to. Right now he just wants to care a little.

      I think what he really means, though, is that it's just not possible for him to care less than he does now. So he should say, "I couldn't care less what she thinks."

      That's far more accurate, don't you think?

      Tuesday, December 15, 2009

      Less vs. Fewer

      This one really sticks in my craw. I blame an old Miller Lite commercial. "It has less calories than their reg-ler beer," I remember John Madden saying in that infamous ad. That's just plain wrong. It might have FEWER calories than their regular beer (don't get me started on his mashing of "regular"), but it doesn't have LESS.

      Here's the deal. If you can count something—1, 2, 3, 4…—use fewer. If you can't, use less.


      1. It has fewer calories than their regular beer. (Fewer, because you can count the calories.)

      2. There is less beer in this glass than this one. (Less, because you can't count "beer.")

      3. The patient received fewer analgesics today than yesterday. (Fewer, because you can count the number of analgesics.)

      4. The patient has less pain today than yesterday. (Less, because you can't count "pain.")

      As with everything, it seems, there are exceptions, but they're easy ones. Generally speaking, use less when talking about time or money.


      1. I've got less than 4 hours left to work! (Less, because we're talking about a time period, not about four individual hours.)

      2. You've got less money than me. Don't even THINK about borrowing anything. (Less, because we're talking about the total amount of money, not the specific number of bills and coins.)

      Hope that helps.

      Friday, December 11, 2009

      Eats, Shoots and Leaves

      If you haven't seen the book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (, you're missing something great. It's a funny, savvy, and fascinating look at punctuation abuses and how to avoid them. Written by Brit Lynne Truss, the book explains the ins and outs of commas, semi-colons, and those greatly misunderstood apostrophes. Hysterically funny and dead-on correct, this is a must-read for authors and editors and especially for those who want to become one or the other.

      More item-writing tips

      Here’s another batch of tips for writing more effective multiple-choice test items. Enjoy!

      • To decrease the likelihood that students can guess the correct answer, follow these rules for responses and distracters.

      • Responses should be parallel in content. For instance, if the correct response is a disease name, make sure all distracters are also diseases, not lab tests, drugs, or some other element.

      • Responses should be grammatically consistent and logically compatible with the stem.

      • Distracters should be clearly incorrect or inferior to the correct response.

      • Distracters should be plausible and attractive to less well-informed test takers.

      • Make sure that distracters differ from the answer in a substantial way, not just in some minor nuance of phrasing or emphasis.

      • Avoid negative stems at all costs. If you must use one, make sure the negative is formatted as all caps in bold/italic. For example, “Which of the following is NOT a symptom of osteoporosis?”

      • Streamline the responses as much as possible by including repetitive material in the stem. For instance, if all the responses start with “An incidence of,” insert the “an incidence of” into the stem.

      • Avoid using “All of the above” or “None of the above” in test items. If you decide to use them, make sure that they appear sporadically as both correct and incorrect responses. Otherwise the savvy test taker will quickly learn how to answer those types of items.

      • Avoid using “always” or “never” in the stem. Doing so immediately tips off the savvy test taker to the correct response.

      5 Tips for Writing Better Multiple-Choice Questions

      How often do you make your own multiple-choice quizzes and tests? Probably quite a bit.

      Here are five tips to keep in mind to help you create more pedagogically effective multiple-choice test items.

      Let’s take a look first at terms pertinent to multiple-choice test items.
      • Stem—main text of the item; sets up the scenario to be solved
      • Options—choices provided after the stem from which the test taker must choose
      • Answer—correct option
      • Distracter—incorrect options


      Keep the following tips in mind when writing test items.

      1. Use a “Which of the following" construct. For instance, “Which of the following symptoms generally appears first in a patient with appendicitis?” Keep this construct consistent, and you're on your way.
      2. Use complete stems. Remember that the good student should be able to answer the question directly from the stem without ever seeing the responses.
      3. Write clear stems. When using a “which of the following” approach, make sure to insert a category that relates to the responses. For instance, rather than writing “Which of the following generally appear first?” write “Which of the following symptoms appear first?”
      4. Make sure each stem is a complete sentence in question form and without a blank. So rather than, "The first symptom to appear is_________," write "Which of the following is the first symptom to appear?"
      5. Write purposeful options. Don't just write a bunch of options and then letter them. Use a specific structure for that particular question. For instance, when all responses consist of numerals, list them numerically in either increasing or decreasing order. Don’t mix them up.

        If one response is short, one is long, and the others are in-between, list them according to overall length, from shorter to longer or vice versa.

        If each response consists of just one or two words, list them alphabetically.

        Focusing on the structure of the responses instead of using a let’s-see, which-letter-haven’t-I-used-lately-for-the-correct-response kind of approach helps keeps the test taker honest. The savvy test taker but poor student won’t be able to figure out the correct response from the structure alone.

      Tuesday, December 8, 2009

      What is an Acquisitions Editor?

      We acquisitions editors (AEs) essentially “find and sign” authors. I try to find the right author for the right book at the right time for the right market and in the right format (the 5 Rights in publishing). After I find them, I sign them to contracts with F.A. Davis.

      AEs are responsible for knowing all about their markets, including what they are, how they work, what they need, and how they’ll respond to products we create. I handle the following markets:

      • Medical assisting

      • Medicine

      • Physician Assistant

      • Health Information Technology

      • Medical Billing and Coding

      I visit schools and attend conferences throughout the year in these disciplines, meeting people and learning about trends, curricula, books in use, and many other matters. I base decisions about which publishing projects to pursue and which to let go on my knowledge of the market, as well as many other factors. I also build the company’s publishing plan for each market. A publishing plan explains explain in detail what the market is and how we should address it for optimal results.

      Beyond the 5 Rights of publishing, AEs are also responsible for guiding the overall vision for a book and making sure that once the vision is clear and mutually agreed to by the author, that vision is followed throughout the entire publishing process.

      The AE's functions include:

      • filtering all unsolicited proposals, deciding which are worth publishing, which are worth at least investigating, and which are headed for the rejection pile.

      • developing a publishing plan, a strategy for a particular line of books (or other products, but let's talk books here). That strategy may, and generally does, involve ways to grow the line, increase revenue, or expand the publisher's presence in a particular market. It may also, though, involve letting a line go. Maybe it's because the market doesn't produce enough revenue. Maybe the market's focus has changed, so the need for the line no longer exists. There could be many reasons, none of which relates to your book.

      • gathering market feedback to identify needs which might be filled by the right product, and market contacts to identify potential authors to develop books to meet those needs.

      Author-related functions
      The AE also works intimately with every author to:

      • craft a winning proposal

      • fine-tune the overall vision of a book

      • reach compromises between the ideal and the real

      • say and do the sometimes difficult things that need to said and done

      After the proposal
      Once a proposal is accepted by the company, the AE serves as:

      • leader of the development and production team

      • consistent voice for you and the product

      • final (usually) arbiter of developmental and production-related issues

      • cheerleader, butt-kicker, compromiser, penny-pincher, visionary, grammar cop, and overall guide for your book from the first word you write to the final binding of the spine to the pages.

      The AE is, in effect, the captain of a ship. Authors supply the cargo for that ship, and the Captain guides it through the many possible hazards at “sea.” The Captain is also responsible for working with the Authors even before the cargo is created, making sure it will fit the needs of the people who’ll eventually use it.

      Think before you print

      Came across a poster on my train today. Dumb, dumb, dumb. It was basically a union poster complaining about Southwest's policies for, I believe, discounted fares for employees and their families.

      I say "I believe" because there was no way to tell, really, what they meant. Here's the first part of the poster:

      Brotherly LUV
      Southwest Style?
      Not for Southwest Airlines
      Flight Attendents (sic)

      Okay, so they misspelled "Attendents." These are union local folks, give them a break. But here's the part that flummoxed me:

      Discount Fares - Not Discounted
      Employees and Families

      Huh? Do they mean something like, "Discount Fares? Not Discounted for Employees and Families"? (Yes, that end punctuation is correct.) Or do they mean, though this is more far-fetched, "Discount the Fares - Not the Employees and Families"?

      Admittedly the latter begs the question, What is a discounted employee? Clearly someone not holding his own. Regardless, I believe they mean that they want discounted fares for employees and their families, which apparently they're not receiving now. But heavens, the wording and construct are just plain squirrely.

      So, to the poster folks at Transport Workers Union Local 556, I say, please read what you've written before you sign off on the poster, would you? THINK! At LEAST show your stuff to someone with an editorial bent. Now, if you did do that, if an editorial-type person did in fact read the poster, FIRE that person! Yikes!

      For the rest of us, we need always, always, always to read what we've written -- before we publish -- from the point of view of our reader. Couldn't hurt. Might help.