There’s a Proven Public Health Strategy We Could Use to Encourage Vaccination

As we learned with smoking, showing people visceral possible health outcomes effectively scares them into behaving differently.

Images of children with the measles grab more attention than any cheerfully sanitized infographic.*
CDC/NIP/Barbara Rice

By Michelle Au 
March 8, 2019 8:00am EST

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched “Tips From Former Smokers,” its first-ever paid national anti-tobacco campaign. “Tips” featured real people suffering real medical conditions resulting from their exposure to tobacco smoke. The campaign gave them a direct platform to share their experiences, which the CDC thought would encourage current smokers to quit and dissuade future smokers from ever starting.

What distinguished this public health campaign was its visceral intimacy. In one poster, a former smoker named Shawn is posed with a lathered face, facing the camera as if it were a mirror while shaving his neck with a safety razor. The gaping orifice of his stoma—the breathing hole in his trachea surgically created after his larynx was removed—gapes at the viewer, the rim ragged with radiation scarring, a glistening red plane of muscle clearly visible under the skin. “BE CAREFUL NOT TO CUT YOUR STOMA,” the bold print reads.


Wearables help cast the medical test as a talisman
of health-care competence. An Object Lesson.

Ralph Orlowski / Reuters

By Andrew Bomback and Michelle Au 
February 22, 2019 11:30am ET

Think of the stereotypical representations of medicine, as they might appear on a television show: the crisp white coat, of course, and the stethoscope dangling at the ready. Syringes and intravenous lines, maybe. An X-ray or a CT scan slammed theatrically into a light box.

But any medical scene is incomplete without an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine running in the background, its jagged line tracing across the screen reassuringly, or alarmingly to cue a dramatic threat. The EKG is the backbeat of many hospital scenes on television. Important medical things are happening here, it says.

Humanely told stories of lives saved and lost

Daniela Lamas is a pulmonary and critical-care doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

By Michelle Au | 
March 21, 2018

For doctors, there are patients, and stories, that stick with us. They linger in the corners of our minds, stain who we are, shape what we become. Some give hope and perspective, others haunt. All doctors have such tales but not all can tell them this well.

You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death, and In Between’’ is a collection of vignettes culled from over a decade of Daniela Lamas’s training in intensive-care medicine, where she learned to care for the sickest of the sick. It casts a steady, unblinking eye on the triumphs, failures, and blind spots of modern medicine: the seemingly miraculous extent of what we can now do for our patients and the crippling disappointment that comes with the realization of what we still cannot.

(and other white lies)

My Education in Medicine & Motherhood


By Michelle Au 
Grand Central Publishing, 2011

Michelle Au started medical school armed only with a surfeit of idealism, a handful of old ER episodes for reference, and some vague notion about “helping people.”

This Won’t Hurt a Bit is the story of how she grew up and became a real doctor.

“An account of medicine, marriage and motherhood, executed with style and enough humor to offset the not-always-happy endings for patients… An upbeat memoir by a woman still imbued with the idealism to serve, but also to be there for her husband and two sons.” Kirkus Reviews

It’s a no-holds-barred account of what a modern medical education feels like, from the grim to the ridiculous, from the heartwarming to the obscene. Unlike most medical memoirs, however, this one details the author’s struggles to maintain a life outside of the hospital, in the small amount of free time she had to live it. And, after she and her husband have a baby early in both their medical residencies, Au explores the demands of being a parent with those of a physician, two all-consuming jobs in which the lives of others are very literally in her hands.

Au’s stories range from hilarious to heartbreaking and hit every note in between, proving more than anything that the creation of a new doctor (and a new parent) is far messier, far more uncertain, and far more gratifying than one could ever expect.

Medical School, Residency, Motherhood, Becoming a Real Doctor,
and What Happens Next