Science Communication: Reflections from an Ivory Tower

This week I was going to post about Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) as, in many ways, it has been quite a momentous week in my professional life and it all ties into AMR. I may still… but I wanted to raise something that has been playing on my mind this week in light of the social media reactions I’ve seen to the new COVID-19 (don’t call it a lockdown) tiers.

Let me say now that this isn’t a political post, purely one linked to reflections that have been triggered for me that are linked to some of the pitfalls of traditional communication, medicine and dissemination.

On Wednesday, I saw this tweet. The scientist in me responded with, ‘well of course’ and ‘surely people understand the ramifications for everyone if we don’t find working containment measures’.

Twitter post related to the new YouGov poll

When I see posts like this, I usually scroll through the comments. I think it’s important to read what people are posting and see what the challenge is like, as it’s all too easy to see the world through the eyes of those in your bubble. Those people in similar situations to us, with similar views to us, who then use stats like this to reinforce the positions we already hold.

Then, as part of the comments, I saw this:

My first reaction to this post was to blow out my cheeks and sigh. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” and all that. That’s an economic problem that should be addressed, not an infection issue: think of the number of people who will die etc.

Then I stopped and realised there is truth to this

I do live in an Ivory Tower

Now that’s not to say that I am rich, and it’s not to say that my response to the the poll is wrong. It is to say that we must reflect and admit the truth to ourselves. I can pay my mortgage. My job is not at risk (although my husband’s may well be). I can buy food and cover my bills. That gives me a privileged position where I can engage with and make decisions about how I feel about the science, the justification, and the way they are implemented. I don’t have to react from a place of worry and fear. That privilege means that I can digest information from a place of logic and not emotion. That privilege also means that I can lose perspective about how others may receive the same information and I certainly have to be aware of that privilege when it comes to judgement.

However the key word in the above paragraph is “receive”. This is where I come to the real point of my post. One of the problems with the current situation is the feeling of disempowerment of being the recipient of information and not the co-creator of response. This has been a problem in the health setting for pretty much as long as it’s existed, but its only in recent years that it’s been recognised as such.

Too many times in medicine we implement from a position of expertise and authority without engaging the lived experience and knowledge of others. I’m a passionate believer in the power of true co-production, where we work in partnership to create something that neither group could deliver on their own. I work in a hospital where we see patients who may be one of only 20 in the world with their condition. It is naïve and arrogant of me to believe that I will understand more about their experience of living with their disease. I can input, support and advise on the basis of biology and my experience. It will never be truly effective without considering theirs.

So my thought on this Friday evening is actually more of a plea. We all have our Ivory Tower, our bubble, our version of the truth. If you work in healthcare it’s important to give yourself time to reflect on what that means for your practice. Are you doing everything you can to move from being the authority in the room to being the person who is prepared to truly listen and co-create the best possible outcome for the patient in front of you?

Are we ready to enter a new period in healthcare where it is much more about the patient in front of us than it is about our years of training and education?

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

All opinions most definitely my own

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