ASU, Mayo Clinic launch new 'Health Conversations' speaker series

September 30, 2016

Top national health journalists and communicators from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Consumer Reports are taking part in a new lecture series between the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The “Health Conversations” lecture series features in-depth discussions with leading health journalists on important issues and the decision making process behind media coverage. The public talks at the Cronkite School are moderated by Dr. Joseph I. Sirven, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic’s campus in Arizona who also chairs the Seniors and Seizures Task Force for the Epilepsy Foundation of America. Dr. Joseph Sirven Dr. Joseph I. Sirven, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic’s campus in Arizona, leads discussions with leading health journalists and communicators as part of the new “Health Conversations” lecture series between the Mayo Clinic and ASU's Cronkite School. Download Full Image

The first discussion kicks off Tuesday, Nov. 1, with a talk on coverage of Alzheimer’s disease with Dr. Orly Avitzur, medical director of Consumer Reports Health and editor-in-chief of Neurology Now. All speakers will chat with Sirven and the audience via a live video feed.

In February, Harriet Ryan, legal affairs correspondent at the Los Angeles Times, examines the heroin and opioid epidemic. The lecture series concludes in April with a talk on media coverage of cancer research with Gina Kolata, science correspondent at The New York Times.

“Quality journalism is critical in helping the public make informed decisions about their health,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Mayo Clinic to create a forum for ASU and the community that bridges the gap between journalists and medical professionals.”

The Cronkite School and Mayo Clinic also offer a fellowship program designed to make future physicians better communicators. Established in 2010 by the late Cronkite School professor Ed Sylvester, the Mayo-Cronkite Fellowship Program is open to Mayo Clinic medical students, providing them with journalism and multimedia training at the Cronkite School.

Sirven, who collaborated with Sylvester on a 2006 study analyzing the media’s coverage of neurological diseases, said the “Health Conversations” lecture series aims to go beyond the headlines to examine what makes news in medicine.

“Ed and I worked on how we could put doctors, health professionals and journalists in the same room,” Sirven said. “We’re all trying to accomplish the same thing and that’s the general improvement of public health. When Ed passed away, I wanted to take up his torch and work on this lecture series because he was so passionate about it.”

The talks, open to the public, are located in the First Amendment Forum at the Cronkite School on the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.

“Health Conversations” schedule

“Spotlighting the Alzheimer’s Disease Pandemic” 

6:30 p.m., Nov. 1

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., yet it is often overshadowed in media coverage by cancer and other disorders. Dr. Orly Avitzur, medical director of Consumer Reports Health and editor-in-chief of Neurology Now, digs to the root of problem, discussing this important health issue.

“Examining America’s Opioid Epidemic”

7 p.m., Feb. 7, 2017

As highlighted in the Cronkite School documentary “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” opioid addiction is casting deadly toll on America. Harriet Ryan, the Los Angeles Times legal affairs correspondent, shares her experiences covering the opioid epidemic from a legal and health perspective.  

“The Truth Behind Cancer Breakthroughs”

6:30 p.m., April 4, 2017

Cancer research is heavily covered by the media and promoted by advocacy groups, but it’s sometimes difficult to determine the true impact of cancer breakthroughs. Gina Kolata, science correspondent at The New York Times, explores the media’s role in covering medical studies and how journalists can improve coverage.