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Penn Med Alum is the ‘Mama Doc’ of Health Bloggers

Wendy-Sue-Swanson,-M.D.The Fall 2014 issue of Penn Medicine, redesigned for a more contemporary look, includes a very contemporary feature that would have been unimaginable when I became editor of the magazine. The article about Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, who earned her medical degree and master’s degree in bioethics from Penn in 2003, clearly shows the differences between 1998 and now. Imagine, an article on an alumna who . . . blogs? For one thing, blogging was just coming out of its infancy in 1998, and many readers back then would have had a hard time conceiving why a doctor, of all people, would waste her time that way.

Perhaps even more surprising is that the hospital where Swanson completed her residency training and now works -- Seattle Children’s Hospital -- appointed her in 2013 as executive director of digital health. Her charge: to provide electronic tools and communications know-how to other doctors. Swanson’s blog, Seattle Mama Doc, reaches readers across the country, and a collection drawn from her more than 500 blogs was published earlier this year by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, she is a frequent medical contributor with Seattle’s NBC affiliate and sits on the board of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

Clearly, Swanson is providing something that many people hunger for, from the parents of young children to many professional colleagues. As she puts it in describing her blog, “This blog caters to one principle I’ve learned along the way: parents just want to do what is right.” But it’s not quite that simple: “It’s the defining what’s right that, on occasion, remains elusive.” It’s Swanson’s combination of pediatrics and family medicine and communications skills that has made her successful and attracted so many readers.

In the contemporary world, Swanson makes a very convincing case that physicians must be aware that their patients are paying attention to social media. Technology that was not available a few decades ago has made communication immeasurably easier and swifter -- but what of its content? Swanson and an increasing number of physicians feel strongly that they must also be ready to counter the health misinformation their patients may come upon. After all, who is better suited to examine the evidence? So Swanson makes use of the same social media to respond.

From incorporeal blogs to a very material book of 375 pages -- it’s instructive that Swanson and the American Academy of Pediatrics have not overlooked the more old-fashioned way of sharing knowledge! Mama Doc Medicine, subtitled “Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work-Life Balance,” ranges widely. Topics include “Reading a Growth Chart”; “Protecting Babies from the Sun”; “Surviving Separation Anxiety”; and “The Juggle: Working and Breastfeeding.” But there are also more contentious issues, such as “Asking About Guns in Your House”; “About Violent Video Games”; and several entries on immunization, one of the areas Swanson feels most passionate about. She leaves no doubt that she is in favor of vaccines -- and not in favor of anti-vaccine celebrities.

As we were preparing the Fall 2014 issue of Penn Medicine, I was also marveling at what technology now offers people working at magazines. Through e-mail, I was able to arrange for a photographer in Seattle to take shots of Dr. Swanson. Through e-mail, photo possibilities were sent back to me and our designer for us to select from. No longer do we pore over contact sheets or negatives that must be dropped off or mailed -- and then turned into prints. If I look back to my earlier position at The Pennsylvania Gazette, I marvel even more. We would compose our articles on IBM Selectric typewriters, then send the pages off campus to be converted into long galley proofs. Then, after edits, a designer would use X-Acto knifes to slice, fit, and paste the text and photos onto layout boards . . . oh, why go on? No one would believe me!


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