Kate Johnson's Medical Musings

Life through the eyes of a medical journalist

A Lesson in Fertility – From Both Sides

MORE Magazine, May, 2011 — read more:


May 31, 2011 Posted by | Fertility, Parenting, Psychology, Uncategorized, Women's Health | , , , | Leave a comment

Can you Trust the Latest Canadian Contraceptive Guidelines? “The Bayer Facts” are Revealing in Their Omission.

April 4, 2011

By Kate Johnson

If it wasn’t for “the Bayer facts”, the new contraceptive guidelines from the Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SOGC) would be rather underwhelming.

But stripped down they are alarmingly revealing: “an egregious example of the extreme,” according to Dr. Allan Sniderman, a McGill University cardiology professor who has called for widespread medical guideline reform. Continue reading

April 4, 2011 Posted by | health journalism, medical ethics, Medical Writing, Pharmaceutical industry, Uncategorized, Women's Health | , , , , | 3 Comments

Canadian Contraceptive Guidelines Shun Disclosure

By Kate Johnson

As published April 4, 2011 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal – full story

April 4, 2011 Posted by | health journalism, medical ethics, Medical Writing, Pharmaceutical industry, Uncategorized, Women's Health | , , , | Leave a comment

Saving Science Journalism

July 8, 2010

By Kate Johnson

I always love to see a journalist speaking into a microphone rather than holding one – especially in the context of a scientific meeting. That’s why science journalist Steve Silberman fuelled my delight earlier this week with his address to the very cool-sounding “Raz Lab” workshop.

The Raz Lab, run by Dr. Amir (– you-guessed it) Raz, is part of the Institute for Community and Family Psychiatry and Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. I didn’t attend the workshop – which was intended for international researchers with expertise in the placebo effect – but Silberman’s address was open to the public and it’s been on my calendar for weeks.

Silberman made a splash last fall with an article about the placebo effect that he wrote for Wired. That alone would have been enough to get me out, despite the Montreal heatwave. But what really piqued my curiosity was that he had been chosen to speak to a caste of scientists, AND in addition to talking about his research on placebos he was also going to tell them about the importance of science writing. Continue reading

July 8, 2010 Posted by | health journalism, Medical Writing, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Star Wars Chemotherapy: Nanotechnology Pushes New Frontiers in Pediatric Cancer.

April 20, 2010

By Kate Johnson

If I was a kid with cancer I’d invite Dr. Noah Federman to be the opening performance at my next birthday party. Dr. Federman is a pediatric oncologist, and Director of the Pediatric Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital, UCLA – and while he uses a great deal of very sophisticated vocabulary that would fly right over the heads of my guests, he seems like the type who could make the necessary adjustments to fit his audience.

If I was the mother of a kid with cancer, Dr. Federman would be more than welcome at my kid’s party. Hearing him speak about nanotechnology at the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology I could picture a room full of sick kids and their parents drawing hope from his journey into deeper frontiers in cancer medicine.

I’m neither a kid with cancer nor the mother of one. What’s more I was probably the only non-scientist attending Dr. Federman’s talk. Perhaps it was this view “from the outside” that enabled me to see his potential as a birthday party performer. Continue reading

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Oncology, Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

TV Doctor/Reporters Cause Ethical Rumblings, but the Fault Line is Health Illiteracy

January 22, 2010

By Kate Johnson

The earthquake in Haiti has delivered a different sort of seismic upheaval in the fields of both medicine and journalism, as professionals in both camps debate the ethics in the niche zone where their respective crafts overlap. Television MDs like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Richard Besser have helped deliver babies and stitch up injuries with the cameras rolling, creating rumblings and debates about the blurring of journalistic and medical boundaries.

With journalistic clarity, The Society of Professional Journalists issued an unambiguous scolding: “Advocacy, self promotion, offering favors for news and interviews, injecting oneself into the story or creating news events for coverage is not objective reporting, and it ultimately calls into question the ability of a journalist to be independent, which can damage credibility,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said in a statement.

Characteristically, the American Medical Association was less specific and more cautious in urging restraint: “The spontaneous volunteer has no place in disaster response,” asserted James J. James, MD, DrPH, MHA, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response, at an American Medical Association (AMA) webinar.

But still, the television networks -– including ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN –- are milking the coverage of their physician reporters for all it’s worth.

Continue reading

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Just Trying to do My Job

December 11, 2009

By Kate Johnson

Yesterday I posted a blog about how a TV station boosted the power of the British Medical Journal in making pharmaceutical giant Roche more accountable for questions about its antiviral drug oseltamivir  (Tamiflu).

I called this unusual partnership a giant leap for science because it achieved the goal of publicizing a problem in medical research.

Medical reporters and medical journals should have the same goals: namely to disseminate important medical information to a wider audience – be it the public, or the research community.

But unfortunately, I recently had the opposite experience with a medical journal.

A few weeks ago I attended a medical conference and heard an excellent presentation which I added to my list of articles to write for International Medical News Group.

I interviewed the researcher, and asked for her powerpoint slides– to make sure my article was accurate.

The next day she e-mailed me her apologies. She had attended a workshop on publication ethics delivered by the editors of a medical journal *.

“They informed me that I should not send you my slides and that this could jeopardize publication,” she wrote. “Clearly this is a difficult area. I’m happy to work with you on the article, but with this information, I feel I can’t send the slides.”

I wrote to the journal editors to register my complaint. Continue reading

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Breast Cancer Genes? Test or Not?

By Kate Johnson – first published in MORE Magazine. Read more

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November 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Should I Get the Shot? The H1N1 Vaccine Dilemma

By Kate Johnson  –   November 1, 2009

As a medical journalist in Montreal I’ve been fielding calls from friends and family in other parts of the country, asking my advice on whether they should get the H1N1 vaccine. While I am still waiting here, the decision is upon them.

I am not a doctor, I remind them. We’ve already heard our doctor’s advice, they say.

And yet they are still unsure. Why?

It has to do with trust. Continue reading

November 1, 2009 Posted by | H1N1, Uncategorized | , | 3 Comments

Americans – if any of you don’t want your H1N1 shots, can we Canadians have them?

By Kate Johnson – October 17, 2009


Next week I head into the four-day World Congress on Diabetes in Montreal, where delegates will be sharing a lot more than just information. Spreading silently through the air ducts will be a variety of airborne viruses, including seasonal and H1N1 influenza. Some American, Australian and Chinese delegates will arrive fully vaccinated against these things, but I and my fellow Canadians remain unprotected.

Normally at this time of year I get the seasonal flu shot because I have asthma which often deteriorates into bronchitis or pneumonia. But this year no seasonal flu shot has materialized – and it may not be available until January, my neighborhood pharmacist tells me. Meanwhile, the H1N1 shot may be available in 2 or 3 weeks, according to the latest reports.

This doesn’t help me much.

Continue reading

October 17, 2009 Posted by | H1N1, Uncategorized | 1 Comment