Health science instructors utilize Writing Center to develop student skills
by Amy Vaerewyck | University Communications
You’ve decided to go into a health care field. You envision your future self counseling at a patient’s bedside, bending over a microscope, reaching out to accept your Nobel Prize. Now, picture yourself hunkered down over your keyboard, laboring over a grant proposal … or a cover letter, policy memo, law brief or doctoral dissertation.
Writing is a necessity in the health sciences, so students and faculty on the Anschutz Medical Campus are using the university’s Writing Center to become better writers. The Writing Center serves students and faculty in all schools and colleges on both the Denver Campus and the Anschutz Medical Campus. It hosts space for in-person support on both campuses—in CU Denver’s North Classroom Building and CU Anschutz’s Health Sciences Library—as well as at the Campus Village Apartments at Auraria.
“One of the core competencies in public health is communication,” said Elaine Morrato, DrPH, MPH, CPH, associate professor in the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH). “We have to learn how to best communicate to stakeholders, in order to get our ideas translated into laws and policies.”
Morrato—as well as faculty members in all the other schools and colleges at CU Anschutz—are leveraging the Writing Center to prepare students for health science careers and to secure funding for their own research.
“Writing permeates every aspect of both of our campuses,” said Drew Bixby, MA, assistant director of the Writing Center and an instructor in the English Department. “Good writing skills are important for everyone, and we’re reaching as many people as we possibly can.”
Adding writing to the syllabus
Of the 600 CU Anschutz students who sought writing support from the Writing Center last school year, 34 percent were from CSPH—and Morrato had something to do with that.
“Three years ago, she came to us and said, ‘I’m teaching this class, and I want to work with you guys on making this a more valuable experience for my students,’” Bixby said. Since then, Morrato and Bixby have met several times a year to discuss writing assignments, grading rubrics and teaching techniques.
Morrato not only incorporates writing into the health policy course she teaches, but has developed an “Introduction to Health Policy Analysis and Communication” course, which focuses extensively on writing for the public health field. She’s working to make a course like this one required for all public health students.
“In public policy, it’s important to know how to communicate, and this is a new skill for people who have more of a technical background,” Morrato said. “Many courses incorporate writing into class, but we’re trying to intentionally build it as a skillset. We want to prepare students not just for science but for the real-world practice of public health.”
A job market looking for writers
Morrato’s students are grateful for this preparation, which gives them an edge in the competitive job market.
“You want students to be doing something pragmatic that can be applied to their future career,” Morrato said, “and what students are telling me is that the [writing-focused] courses are highly valuable.”
After taking Morrato’s class, public health student Eskedar Makonnen landed a position as a policy and stakeholder specialist with the Colorado Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing.
“The policy analyses and brief papers, while they were difficult to write at the moment, were instrumental at helping me get this job,” Makonnen said. “I was asked to submit a policy-related writing sample, and I submitted the two papers I wrote for class. My now-supervisor was impressed.”
Many of Morrato’s students, who have science-centered backgrounds, struggle with the rigor of her writing assignments. But when they finish the course, they recognize that they have a new, powerful skill—and many of them later write to her to thank her.
“I rely upon the skills the staff at the Writing Center shared with me,” said Martha Meyer, a PhD student in public health. “As I look forward to my new career, I am confident not only in the new knowledge gained through my classroom course work, but in the practical skills, such as writing, that I have gained.”
When your well-being depends on writing
During the 2012-2013 academic year, the Writing Center provided CU Anschutz with more than 1,050 writing sessions and five writing workshops.
“The work that we do at CU Anschutz is some of our most exciting,” Bixby said. “For many people on the Anschutz Medical Campus, every aspect of their professional well-being has to do with writing—writing grant proposals. Sometimes, really brilliant people struggle to get funding for their brilliant ideas, because the grant writing process is so difficult.”
In addition to grant proposals, students and faculty learn to write curriculum vitae, literature reviews, and personal application statements, as well as documents specific to the various health science fields.
It’s not just a room full of people
Bixby believes the university’s Writing Center is one of the best in the country, due to its robust services, multiple locations and well-trained employees.
“This isn’t just a book nerd sitting in a room talking with you about creative writing,” he said. “We provide direct training in various writing genres, from historical to technical to medical. We also go into classrooms on both campuses and run workshops.”
While faculty members know that writing is an important skill for many careers, many of them have not been trained, specifically, to teach writing. This is exactly where the Writing Center can help.
“We support faculty while enriching their curricula,” he said.
Published: Oct. 14, 2013