Interview: Maddy French on journalism and palliative care

Categories: In The Media.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in health journalism? 

I first became interested in health journalism when I was a student studying History and Journalism at City University in London. There was a really inspiring health and science lecturer at the university who taught us how to read scientific papers and encouraged us to “think about the people” behind the data.

I ended up specialising in health journalism in my final year, starting a health blog and trying to find global health topics to write about.

Palliative care can be a difficult subject to write about to a general audience, what made you want to tackle it?

I think the first time I heard about palliative care was whilst interviewing a director of a global child cancer charity about non-communicable diseases. I remember she spoke very passionately about palliative care and about the fact it was an under-reported subject that deserves more attention on the global stage. This caught my attention straight away but it only was when I began researching it later on and learning more about the problems around medicinal opioids, that I understood how critical an issue it was.

Once you begin to comprehend just how many people are living unnecessarily in pain, it’s very difficult to turn your back on it – as ehospice readers I am sure will know!

As a Brit living in Austria how did you end up writing about palliative care in Uganda?

I first heard about Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU) when I stumbled across a blog written by student nurses from the UK who had gone to the hospice in Uganda on a placement. I saw their pictures of bottling morphine and began to understand how unique the hospice’s story and model of providing this medicine was. I happened to have a contact in the university where the students were from who told me more about the story and the role of Treat the Pain organisation. She put me in touch with the hospice and then I went from there. It was a great story to write as it was about a solution as well as the problem of access to morphine.  

What did winning the APCA 2013 Journalism Award mean to you?  

It was fantastic. People don’t get into journalism for awards but it’s still a lovely feeling if it does happen. Hopefully it also helped to draw more readers to the article and therefore promote the work of APCA, HAU and Treat the Pain. As a journalist, it has also encouraged me to write more about palliative care and being able to attend the conference was a great opportunity to meet people working in this area and discover new angles for stories. 

If you had one bit of advice for aspiring journalists and health workers wanting to write about palliative care, what would it be?

I guess it would be to always try to think about your audience. If you’re a journalist or someone writing about palliative care for the mainstream press, it’s usually the human interest story that will be important for getting readers engaged with the issue. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a patient’s story and it doesn’t have to be a sad story either – it could be a ‘day in the life’ of a hospice volunteer or maybe a CEO who wanted a change in career and felt inspired by palliative care.  

However a more specialist publication (science or policy press perhaps) might not need this ‘people element’ so much. And thinking about your audience also feeds into the terminology you’d use. For example, for a mainstream paper you might have to describe what palliative care is every time to you write an article. And to people working in health ‘opioid analgesics’ may make perfect sense but for someone else it can look like a different language.

What have you got lined up in the future – any work on palliative care? 

Having recently moved to Vienna, I’m interested in covering stories from the neighbouring post-soviet bloc group of countries. I know there’s lots of work that has gone on there recently regarding access to medicinal opioids so there may well be lots to write about regarding palliative care. I’m also improving on my German so I can work on more local stories in Vienna.  

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us and we look forward to reading more from you in the future. Do you have any last messages for ehospice readers?

Only to say a huge thanks to APCA for arranging the awards and providing the opportunity to attend the conference – and to Open Society Foundations for providing the funding. Also, I’d like invite any ehospice readers to get in touch if they have a story or some news they’re looking to publicise. They can add my email address to any press lists too: I can also (apologies for the self-promotion) provide copywriting and communications support (press releases, online content, proofreading, social media etc) so if an organisation is working on a project and needs some extra help, feel free to get in touch. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *