A History of the AMWA Journal
M. J. Schiffrin, Ph.D.
(AMWA president, 1974)
Printed in the Summer 2000 issue
of the AMWA Journal
Volume 15, Number
M. J. Schiffrin, Ph.D.
In 1940, Harold Swanberg, M.D., gathered a group of fewer than 10 physicians
who were interested in learning more about medical writing. They formed the
Mississippi Valley Medical Editors Association (MVMEA). They published a
bulletin and later the Mississippi Valley Medical Journal.
By 1941, membership had grown
to 27. It was an elitist group, dominated by male physicians. And physicians
were the only ones eligible to become president of the association. (It is well
to remember that women in this country had won suffrage only 20 years earlier.
In 1939, women in the province of Quebec won the right to vote, and some members
of the clergy promptly denounced it, saying that the voting booth was a place of
Temptation, the Devil, and Sin and that no good woman should enter such a
In 1942, Harold Laufman, M.D.,
Ph.D., became a member of MVMEA. He is probably the only active member of AMWA
today with that distinction.
The requirement that one had to
be a physician to be eligible for the presidency was removed by a change in the
constitution. As I recall the Executive Committee meeting, three
physicians—Laufman, Huth, and Roland—voted in favor of the change; Dr. Swanberg
was the only physician who voted against the measure. Eric W. Martin, Ph.D., was
elected president in 1971. In 1976, Jerry McKee became our first president
without a doctorate. And in 1977, Virginia T. Eicholtz became our first female
Post-World War II Era
M. J. Schiffrin, Ph.D.
After World War II, Chicago was teeming with medical activity. Among the
organizations with headquarters in Chicago were the American Medical
Association, the American Dental Association, the American College of Surgeons,
the American Osteopathic Association, and the International College of Surgeons.
Chicago boasted five medical schools. (And let us not forget that it was the
birthplace of The Journal of Irreproducible Results.)
Among the physicians and educators whom I recall during the 1945-1960 period
in Chicago were Joseph Behr, obstetrician-gynecologist, and author of many
articles; Anton J. Carlson, professor of physiology extraordinaire, University
of Chicago; Loyal Davis, editor of Surgery, Gynecology, and Obstetrics;
Harry Dowling, professor of medicine, University of Illinois; Carl Dragsted, a
great poet on medical subjects, and professor of pharmacology, Northwestern
University; Lester Dragsted, professor of surgery, University of Chicago; Jacob
(Jack) Greenhill, an obstetrician who took over the editorship of DeLee's
classic Textbook of Obstetrics, which went through several editions and
was the bible in obstetrics for decades; Andrew C. Ivy, professor of physiology,
Northwestern University (who participated in the Nuremberg trials); Philip
Lewin, orthopedic surgeon and prolific author of articles and textbooks; Max S.
Sadove, professor of anesthesiology, University of Illinois, and world-renowned
lecturer and author; Max Samter, allergist, researcher, and author; Austin
Smith, of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA);
Theodore R. Van Dellen, who wrote a daily health column for the Chicago
Morris Fishbein, of whom more later.
The best description I could find of the birth of the Chicago AMWA chapter,
in 1962, is in the Fishbein Festschrift, which appeared in Medical
Communications (Vol. 5, No. 4, 1977). Dr. Laufman (AMWA president, 1969)
wrote a lively and informative Personal Sketch of Morris Fishbein. Here is how
Dr. Laufman described the formation of the chapter:
Morris, most significantly,
started the Chicago chapter of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)
in 1962. It was a couple of years after Morris had been national president of
the AMWA. He called me, as he had called some 50 other Chicago M.D.'s and
medical writers, asking that we attend a meeting at the Drake Hotel one evening
for the purpose of organizing a Chicago chapter of AMWA. Some 20 people
attended. Morris Fishbein was at the head table, flanked by Ted (Dr. Theodore
R.) Van Dellen (then immediate past president of AMWA) and Jack (Dr. Jacob)
Greenhill. Morris held forth on the need for an active Chicago chapter of AMWA
and the benefits to be derived from it. Ted made a short speech on the same
subject. Jack suggested electing officers of the new chapter then and there.
Before I could say a word (I had in mind nominating Jack Greenhill), Morris
nominated me for president. Ted seconded the nomination, and Morris moved that
the nominations be closed. Phoebe Thompson was nominated for the office of vice
president and Roland Main for secretary. It was that fast. The Chicago chapter
of AMWA had been born.
Dr. Fishbein was assistant editor and editor of JAMA for 37 years. He was
widely regarded as the voice of American physicians and was not hesitant to
express his political views. He contributed mightily to the growth of AMWA by
helping to found new chapters and encouraging physicians to join the
organization. His work on behalf of AMWA was recognized in 1959 when he received
the Distinguished Service Award (known after 1962 as the Harold Swanberg Award).
Shirley Linde, Ph.D., joined
AMWA in 1954, and she may well be one of the longest-active members still alive.
She established the public relations office at Northwestern University medical
and dental schools and headed that office for a number of years. Shirley was
instrumental in establishing a close relationship between AMWA and the National
Association of Science Writers. She chaired the national AMWA liaison committee
and obtained funding from the National Science Foundation for and organized a
3-day workshop in Chicago titled, "When Scientists Meet Reporters." She wrote
several books in Chicago, later becoming well known as an author of books on
medicine and of cruise guidebooks.
Dr. Laufman became editor of the Chicago Medical Society's Chicago
used every opportunity to publicize and promote AMWA. The Chicago Medical
Society was a major medical force, and its annual meetings gathered large
audiences. I remember well one such meeting when Dr. Walter Alvarez was a
featured speaker and cautioned doctors against becoming errand boys between the
laboratory and the patient. It was a chance to renew our acquaintance, which
began in 1939.
Gathering the history of the early days of AMWA publications and the
recollections of those who were active members would not have been possible
without enormous help from Harold Laufman, M.D., Ph.D.; Shirley Linde, Ph.D.;
Lillian Sablack; and Edith Schwager. I am greatly indebted to them.
Excerpt from AMWA Journal
(Sept. 1990, Vol. 5, No. 3)
T. Scott, Ph.D. (AMWA president, 1979)
It all began because I made Katherine Becker's deadline. Later, she explained
it this way: "When I saw you walking through the door (at an AMWA annual
meeting) with three copies of your completed paper, just as I'd asked all
speakers to do, I just knew. . . ." What she knew was that I was her nominee to
edit the resuscitated AMWA journal, Medical Communications.
Back in the mid-1960s, when I'd first joined AMWA, an irregular but vigorous
version of the journal existed. Thrashing about amid the nuances of medical
reporting and writing as a JAMA medical news correspondent, I'd clung gratefully
to the ideas of Fishbein, Roland, King, Huth, et al. In a Philadelphia hotel
room during an earlier AMWA annual meeting, I'd let that same Dr. Charles Roland
talk me into editing a bimonthly newsletter to supplement the then-moribund
Soon after, as part of a
budgetary cutback more than anything, the old AMWA journal went into an
extended, deep coma. And now, as I walked through that doorway in San Antonio,
manuscript in hand, I knew three things:
(1) Katherine, Chuck, and other
coconspirators were reviving our journal; (2) annual conferences are filled with
careless moments for making long-term commitments; and (3) I'd left active
medical journalism to become an assistant professor of journalism, thus
acquiring a desperate need to "publish or perish." I jumped into the boat.
But the primary benefits were
human, not scholarly. I was drawn deeply into the workings of AMWA and into the
thought processes of its member-friends. My copy pencil moved and slashed over
the texts of writers I previously had held in awe. Unanimously, they did me the
honor of not complaining. In retrospect, only those who thought writing an
effortless extension of other expertise kicked up; those who knew the pains of
good communication were supportive. I quickly learned that not all the good
talkers wrote well; and few of the well-intended knew much about deadlines.
By some miracle of democracy,
my editorship continued until I moved onto the AMWA executive committee. Edie
Schwager, who graces the journal's pages still, was my successor. She can tell
you who talked her into that one.
Arnold Melnick, D.O. (AMWA president,
In 1971, I was able to persuade Katherine True Becker to take on the duties
of editor of the proposed new publication, Medical Communications (MC),
with Charles Roland, M.D., as consulting editor. I had known Kathy from her time
as an editor of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
Earlier, she had worked on the editorial staff of JAMA. Red Schiffrin
tells me that Kathy worked at JAMA as early as 1941, when Kathy and Red's bride-to-be
were colleagues there.
Kathy had a difficult time starting MC, mainly because of problems
associated with the organization that was acting as our executive secretary.
Kathy was dismayed by the poor quality of the galleys she received. The reason
for the many errors became clear when she learned that the person who prepared
the galleys was a part-time high-school student. But Kathy persevered, and the
first issue of MC appeared in July 1972.
The Forgotten Board
Charles G. Roland, M.D., D.Sc. (AMWA
Not only has the Board of
Trustees been forgotten officially—its existence is not mentioned in the history
of AMWA published in 1990—but I had forgotten it also. Recently, however, Red
Schiffrin wrote asking for some memories of the AMWA and its publications in the
1960s and 1970s. Digging through old files, I stumbled across a folder
containing correspondence about the Board of Trustees of AMWA. And then it all
came back to me.
I should have remembered.
Eliminating this particular board was an accomplishment during my term as
president, and the effectiveness of this action perhaps explains our collective
forgetting. The Board of Trustees had existed for a number of years. The members
were former presidents who assumed their places on the board automatically when
they surrendered the presidency.
The problem was that the
trustees had no assigned duties. They were to be advisory, but no one asked them
for advice. So it seemed to some of us that the board served no real purpose.
After some discussion amongst the executives, I wrote to all of the trustees to
get their responses to the fundamental question, Should the Board of Trustees
exist officially? The file of correspondence I found continued their individual
Remarkably, the response was
unanimous: every trustee chose to vote himself and the Board of Trustees out of
existence. The men (yes, they were all men back in AMWA Paleolithic days)
included luminaries of the group—physicians, of course, such as W. A. D.
Anderson, William Hammond, Edward J. Huth, Harold Laufman, Edward C. Rosenow, W.
D. Snively, Jr., and Austin Smith.
One comment typifies their
common reaction: "A Board of Trustees of this kind can serve as not entirely
undesirable window dressing. Aside from this, I can see little need for the
Board." As far as I know, no one has noticed or felt deprived by the elimination
of the Board of Trustees.
The AMWA Newsletter
Louis G. Buttell (AMWA president, 1981)
In 1974, at the request of President Arnold Melnick, D.O., Otha Linton,
government relations director of the American College of Radiology, became
editor of the AMWA Newsletter. Dr. Melnick had been impressed by Linton's
launching of a newsletter for the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), where
they had worked when Melnick was president of AOA. When AMWA experienced
financial difficulties in 1974, Linton contacted me—I was Director of Public
Affairs of the American Podiatry Association (APA, now the American Podiatric
Medical Association)—as to the possibility of APA's taking over production of
the AMWA Newsletter. Thanks to the cooperation of APA's long-time
executive director, the late Seward P. (Bud) Nyman, D.P.M, the APA did assume
layout and production of the Newsletter. David Zych, APA's publications director and
an AMWA member, did the lion's share of the work. Camera-ready copy was
delivered to AMWA headquarters every 2 months for printing and distribution to
the membership. Linton, who also served as AMWA's treasurer and vice president,
was editor until 1976.
I succeeded Linton in 1976 and continued the successful layout and production
arrangement at APA headquarters. Sometime after 1978, because of reemerging
financial problems at AMWA headquarters, the AMWA Newsletter was merged
into Medical Communications. Throughout the 1972-1978
period, there was a continuing effort on the part of the editors to solicit news
from chapters, sections, and committees. This effort was generally successful
and resulted in delivery to the membership of prompt and accurate information on
AMWA's activities, including pictures of AMWA officials, honorees, and member
From Guest Editor to Editor
Communications, 1978-1981, 1984-1985)
At the 1974 annual meeting of the American Medical Writers Association, I
gave a talk titled, "Clarity Begins at Home." I was then the executive editor in
the Department of Medicine and adjunct lecturer in allied health professions at
Hahnemann Medical College, in Philadelphia. Byron Scott, editor of our journal,
Medical Communications, asked permission to publish an
edited version of the presentation, and so it appeared in the spring 1975 issue
(Vol. 3, No. 4). Apparently, that started a chain of events that led up to
Scotty's request in 1977 that I write a guest editorial. Morris Fishbein, M.D.,
who had died in 1976, was to be the subject.
Dr. Fishbein (1889-1976) was the redoubtable, feisty, fascinating president
of AMWA in 1959, a founder of the Chicago chapter in 1962, assistant editor
(1913-1924) and editor (1924-1949) of the Journal of the American Medical
Association, and author of the classic Medical WritingMedical Communications.
When I recognized the scope of
my assignment, I felt that such a titanic figure as Morris Fishbein deserved
more than an editorial obituary. Rather than lament his passing, I cooked up a
Festschrift—although traditionally such writings are in honor of living
persons—because I wanted to celebrate his life and work rather than
concentrating on his death.
Being naive about how difficult it is to get articles from family and friends
of famous people, I undertook to obtain them from Dr. Fishbein's family and
friends. I was pleasantly flabbergasted at the results. His daughters, Barbara
Fishbein Friedell and Marjorie Clavey, and his son, Justin M. Fishbein, sent me
their articles in tribute to him (and to their mother, Anna, who was, among
other accomplishments, the editor of The Modern Woman's Medical
Encyclopedia). Other contributors of remarkable encomiums (one of Morris's
favorite words) were Lester S. King, M.D.; Hans Selye, M.D.; Morris T. Friedell,
M.D., who was Morris's son-in-law; Byron T. Scott, Ph.D.; Joseph B. Kirsner,
M.D.; Irv Kupcinet ("Mr. Chicago"); David Dietz, Litt.D., LL.D.; and Harold
Laufman, M.D., Ph.D., cofounder and first president of the Chicago chapter of
Trying to describe the life and
works of this giant in medicine is impossible in a short work. However, I can't
refrain from quoting from two of these tributes:
Dr. Kirsner: "Perhaps the best
indication of the international esteem with which Morris Fishbein was regarded
is an incident that happened to me in Tokyo. I was introduced to a physician
who, in seeking to identify himself, introduced himself proudly as 'the Japanese
Fishbein.' * * * A young girl from Chicago wanted to know how to go about
studying to be a doctor. She wrote a letter addressed to 'The Chief Doctor of
the United States of America.' In the lower right-hand corner of the envelope an
anonymous postal clerk had scrawled the name 'Morris Fishbein.'"
Dr. Laufman: "As early as the
1920s, Morris spoke and wrote against black boxes with flashing lights, arc rays
with purported magical healing powers, and device-assisted manipulations, which
purport to cure everything from the ague to cancer. He wrote articles and gave
speeches about these gadgets in order to expose them and thereby curtail their
use. But there was no legislation to declare these things illegal. So Morris
kept up the battle as a lone voice in the wilderness. * * *The various councils
of the AMA . . . granted or denied a stamp of approval of sorts to various
over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics, and foods until the Food and Drug
Administration of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare came into
existence. But it was not until 1976 that the fight against quack devices, begun
by Morris Fishbein and carried on by him for so many years, actually reached
fruition by virtue of the Medical Device Amendment of the Pure Food and Drug
Act. . . . I wonder how many members of the AAMI (Association for the
Advancement of Medical Instrumentation) and how many government officials now
serving in the Devices Branch of the Food and Drug Administration actually know
what they owe to Morris."
After my stint as guest editor, Byron Scott anointed me as the next editor of
Medical Communications. I can only assume that no one else was asked. My
first issue as editor of Medical Communications was the
postconvention winter 1977/spring 1978 issue (Vol. 6, No. 1),which contained
presentations from the 37th annual meeting (as it was called then) held at the
Americana Hotel in New York City. Robert F. Orsetti was the president of AMWA.
One highlight of that meeting was an address delivered by telephone by Senator
Edward M. Kennedy, who was unable to give the speech in person because of
business in the Senate.
In that issue, I pleaded for help in producing Medical Communications, for a
business manager (we actually had one for a few issues), for a book review
editor, and for help with any other "position" on the team. I especially asked
for manuscripts, ideas about columns on word origins and word games, and
examples of good or bad writing. All was grist for my mill.
Despite my entreaties, the
response to the job call was so meager, except for several "applications" for
book review editor, that the editorship turned out to be pretty much a
one-person job. Members were busy with their own work and pursuits and didn't
have time to spare for voluntary work. It was hard sledding. Luckily, I
discovered a printer in my vicinity whose small business could accommodate our
journal. This agreeable man even did the layout for me, since I'm not
sufficiently knowledgeable about production. Between us, we turned out what I
thought was a creditable journal, with scholarly and informative articles by
important people in the medical and allied health fields. One of the greatest
left-handed compliments I ever received during the years came from an AMWA
member, who called to tell me that she had found a typo in one issue. We were
able to maintain this standard for both of my tenures as editor.
All the applications for book review editor were interesting, but among them
was one letter, so charming and, yes, so literate—exuding willingness
besides—that I said to myself, "Hallelujah! I never heard of this man, but he's
the one." How courageous of him, I thought, to take on this voluntary work! This
obliging soul, whose name is Howard Smith, even wrote the book reviews himself.
Little did I know that he would become a national president. Over the years (and
it has been more than 20), I've grown to love and respect Howard even more,
especially when, after I stepped down, he undertook the responsibility of editor
of Medical Communications with the winter 1981 issue. With his customary élan and
scholarliness, he served as editor through the winter 1983 issue (Vol. 11, No.
The spring 1980 issue contained
my tribute to a mentor and all-around good guy. Theodore (Ted) Menline
Bernstein, who died on June 17, 1979, was unarguably one of the best editors and
writers in the United States. His timeless books on usage are classics. Thanks
to Judy Linn (she of the one typo), I now have a complete run of his books; I
also own an enviable collection of his "Winners & Sinners."
How Martha Tacker, Ph.D., came up with the brilliant, innovative idea of my
answering questions about language in Medical Communications I'll never know. I'll be
eternally grateful to her for that and for the equally brilliant title of the
column, "Dear Edie." She wrote in her proposal letter, "We need a 'Dear Abby'
for the medical editing-writing community and you are a logical choice." ("Ask
Edie" was suggested, but we vetoed it as too aloof a title for such a personal
column. Since queries would be addressed to me in the form of letters, "Dear
Edie" was deemed more friendly.) Martha saw the column as a give-and-take forum
for AMWA members and other readers. The column first appeared in 1978 and
continues to this day. I am constantly delighted with the well-considered,
bright queries our readers send me. Most of the questions, containing issues
both subtle and relevant to the professions of writing and editing, require
quite a bit of research, which I'm happy to do.
With the spring 1979 issue
(Vol. 7, No. 1), I instituted consecutive pagination instead of the awkward
system in which each issue (number) started with page 1. In this system, readers
wouldn't have to know the number or season designation, only the year and the
"Hello again," I wrote, when I became editor of Medical Communications once more
with the spring 1984 issue (Vol. 12, No. 1). We published the inauguration
address of AMWA President Donald Radcliffe in that issue. His address was
titled, "Toward Professional Autonomy for Medical Writers." In his peroration,
he said, "We can choose to work toward either professional status or continued
anonymity in the larger medical and health community. . . . To make the proper
choice, however, we must stop, at least for a moment, and remove the stones from
our running shoes."
Because we didn't want to seem ponderous, and to lighten the formal tone of
Medical Communications, we printed amusing features. From an obituary of an M.D.:
"He specialized in internal
medicine and gastroenterology. He founded the hospital's Ground Round Seminar
program of guest speakers." Here are some items from "Inquiring Patron and
Succinct Librarian" (contributed by several members): "Do you have any books on
gambling?" "If you have a card, you bet!" "Do you have any fairy tales?" "Once
upon a time we did . . . ." Do you have any books on psychiatry?" "What do you
think?" "Do you have any books on statistics?" "Yes, a significant number." We
also printed a series of medical scramble puzzles, by Susan Sparks and Joyce
Hayman, and medical crossword puzzles, by Abe Brown; all three were AMWA
In the winter 1984 issue, we printed an article based on the oral
presentation of George D. Lundberg, M.D., then editor of JAMA, for a
panel discussion at the AMWA annual conference in San Antonio (October 10-13,
1984), in which he described in great detail the "JAMA style." During our
59th Annual Conference, in Philadelphia (October 27-30, 1999), as former editor
of JAMA and featured speaker at the opening
plenary session, he brought these concepts up to date to reflect present-day
thinking and technology in his speech titled, "Internet Medicine." Dr. Lundberg
is now the editor-in-chief of Medscape. Each year, we published presentations
from the annual conferences, so that members could enjoy them once more.
Along about the winter of 1986, it became evident that the content, size, and
design of Medical Communications no longer met the needs of a
fast-growing, dynamic membership. The Executive Committee and the Board of
Directors labored long and hard over the form that a new official publication
could take. During this gestation period, it was decided that new blood was
needed, and Ronald J. Sanchez, a young, enterprising editor, was chosen to be
the editor-in-chief of the just-born AMWA Journal.
Harry Sweeney, a former president of the Metropolitan New York Chapter, was a
prime mover. Many others, equally responsible and eager to enrich AMWA's
services to members, were involved during this difficult transition period.
Ronald's long tenure was notable for his ingenious innovations, and so his
premature death in 1993 was a heart-wrenching blow to all of us.
Pamela Paradis Powell took up
the challenge in 1994 as editor-in-chief. Her scholarly, conscientious work was
an example to me and other professional writers and editors.
Since 1997, editor-in-chief
Robert Jacoby has added his own solid, meaty contributions and a bright touch to
what is now a paradigm for journals of its kind.
Dr. Samuel Johnson was referring to lexicographers in general (and perhaps
himself in particular), but I paraphrase the definition in his history-making
Dictionary (1755): "Editor: a harmless drudge." But he wrote in his preface, "I
am not yet so lost in lexicography as to forget that words are the daughters of
earth, and that things are the sons of heaven." He also wrote (when asked by a
lady why he defined "pastern" as the "knee" of a horse in his
Dictionary), "Ignorance, madame, pure ignorance."
Students at my workshops may recognize that as one of my favorite quotations.
Thus endeth the tale of my uplifting, heart-warming, educative experience as
editor of an official AMWA journal for two memorable tenures. What a wonderful
ride it was! I never cease to wonder at how much I've learned. Then, too, I get
to continue "Dear Edie," which has been and remains one of the loves of my life
(if you don't count certain people). All thanks and kudos (singular and
plural, strangely enough) to my colleagues, friends, and comrades in arms and to
every other member of the American Medical Writers Association.
The Birth of the AMWA Journal
William D. Nelligan (AMWA
The minutes of the November 3, 1985, AMWA Board of Directors meeting indicate
that the administrator (a volunteer member of AMWA) of the Department of
Publications, Harry Sweeney, Jr., recommended the merger of the AMWA News
and Medical Communications into one official journal. The Board gave
Harry the green light to proceed with this plan, and in early 1986 he presented
to the Board a prototype (81/2**x11**) of our current AMWA Journal. His
recommendation was enthusiastically approved by the directors. The minutes of
that meeting show that he thanked both Edie Schwager, who at that time was the
editor of Medical Communications, and Ronald Sanchez for their
roles in developing the concept for the new publication.
In choosing the first editor-in-chief for our new "official journal," the
officers and Board looked no further than Ronald, and he graciously accepted. I
take some credit in helping Ronald develop his communication skill inasmuch as I
hired him in 1981 as the director of communications for the American College of
Cardiology. At the time of his appointment as editor-in-chief of the
Journal, he was working for Hill and Knowlton in
In the first issue of the Journal (fall 1986), Ronald's editorial
credits Harry Sweeney as having the vision and concept for the new publication.
The design of the cover was a gift from Harry's award-winning design partner,
Dick Jones. Also in the editorial, Ronald states: "The first issue of the
AMWA Journal is our vision. Future issues will be
Ronald's arm-twisting and low-key charm persuaded Edie Schwager to agree to
continue (even until today, some 13 years later) her "Dear Edie" feature
articles. He had an almost cherubic, boylike quality about him that made saying
no most difficult for the authors and contributors of his publication. I use the
word "his" because it is my view that an editor-in-chief really nurtures and
gives loving care to his or her publication. Certainly, AMWA owned the
but its stewardship was in the skilled hands of Ronald Sanchez.
He grew up in the south—New Orleans. I think that his warm personality, wit,
and skills as a journalist and editor had their beginnings in New Orleans. He
spent many hours thinking about how to make the AMWA Journal more reader-friendly,
and he polished each issue as though it were to be submitted for a Pulitzer
Unfortunately, Ronald's life was cut short, and he died on June 29, 1993. I
vividly recall visiting him in his apartment in Washington, D.C., shortly before
his death. Although his illness was indeed terminal, never once did he mention
his physical condition. He seemed more concerned with my concern for him than
with his own health. He still had galley proofs of the Journal scattered
across his coffee table and said he hoped that he could muster the strength to
read them and get them back to Lillian Sablack. One gutsy guy!
In the fall 1993 issue of the Journal, there were numerous tributes to
Ronald. AMWA President Betty Cohen wrote that "Ronald was passionately dedicated
to producing a fine Journal, and in his editorials he courageously
addressed controversial social and medical issues." Edie Schwager wrote that
"two issues into his tenure as Editor-in-Chief of the beautiful new AMWA
Journal, I sat back, smiling and content. I
thought, this kid is going to make it. And he did."
Ronald's "footprint" on the
major communications vehicle of our association was very important. Along the
way, he also left "footprints" in the hearts of all of us in AMWA who knew him.
William D. Nelligan served as AMWA's treasurer for many years during the
1970s, when his creative financing and budget wizardry were all that kept AMWA
from going bankrupt. Currently, he is executive director of the American Society
of Nuclear Cardiology in Bethesda, Md.
AMWA Publications: What They Are and Their Future
Phyllis Minick (AMWA president, 1995)
The publications of the
American Medical Writers Association accurately reflect its activities and
history, as is appropriate for an organization of professional communicators.
However, even long-time members might not readily recognize the range of
documents that AMWA currently publishes.
The importance of those items is
their role as the only means of interaction among AMWA officers, administrators,
headquarters, and members. Through this medium, which is more retrievable than
word-of-mouth exchanges, experienced AMWA members transmit their collective
wisdom to newer medical communicators and to those entering new fields. In
AMWA's Long-Range Plan, begun in 1995 and completed in 1996 under the leadership
of Thomas A. Lang, the Journal was cited as the best information vehicle
of the organization. Although the annual conference is our finest networking,
educational, and fund-raising opportunity, only about 800 of our more than 4,000
members attend. In contrast, every member receives the Journal, as well
as the Membership Directory, Job Sheet, and special-interest
announcements. The Journal now reports AMWA's
financial status and includes a statement from the president—important links
between the organization's administration and the members who pay the bills.
- The AMWA Journal (quarterly magazine)
- Biomedical Communication: Selected AMWA Workshops
- Essays for Biomedical Communicators: Volume 2 of Selected AMWA
- Freelance Directory (list of
- The Membership Directory (yearly listing of members, with
Constitution and Bylaws)
- The AMWA Key (yearly listing of chapter and national
- The Executive Committee Handbook (guidelines for
national officers and administrators)
- The Job Sheet (monthly listing of full- and part-time
- The annual conference
- Guidelines for fulfilling
specific AMWA offices and tasks (such as chapter officers and
- Special-interest brochures
- Chapter newsletters
- The AMWA Web site,
In 1995, we inaugurated the AMWA News, a tabloid-sized newsletter, as
a response to members' requests for quick, organization-wide reporting on the
Annual Conference. For the first time, summaries of the Executive Committee's
action items appeared publicly. Our attitude was that every member is entitled
to know the issues confronting us and that having such information encourages
participation. Many recipients voiced such strong appreciation for this
publication's informal tone that three more issues were published; all were
under the editorship of Robert P. Hand. Both the newsletter and its editor then
became part of the Journal. However, in the year 1995, AMWA members
enjoyed six serial publications (three Journal issues and three
newsletters), the Long-Range Plan's recommended number for the Journal itself.
AMWA's first effort at textbook publication came in 1994 with the appearance
of Biomedical Communication: Selected AMWA Workshops (Phyllis Minick,
Editor), which presented chapters written by 25 of our workshop leaders. Now
that the second printing of this volume has sold out, work will soon begin to
revise and update its contents. Planning for a second volume began in 1995; and
in 1997, AMWA published Essays for Biomedical Communicators: Volume 2 of
Selected AMWA Workshops. The editors
of its 30 chapters were Florence M. Witte and Nancy Dew Taylor, Ph.D., and they
will jointly revise Volume 1. The importance of these volumes lies beyond their
content; they constitute AMWA's first entry into the textbook market and the
first public documentation of our workshop leaders' exceptional skills.
The economics of AMWA publications seems to be a rather unknown subject to
the membership. For example, the Journal's high cost caused its
curtailment twice in the last 20 years, but its worth is indisputable. Our two
textbooks, which are purchased by their users, have profited AMWA financially,
and the Job Sheet offers direct monetary gains to
The immediate future is represented by AMWA's Web site, an asset that will
continue to grow. For the print medium, the Journal's stunning redesign and
well-focused contents are state-of-the-art, under editor-in-chief Robert Jacoby.
In years to come, the extent to which AMWA uses these vehicles to communicate
with its members, their employers, and our professional community at large will
bear a direct relationship to the financial success and status of members and to
AMWA Journal at the Turn of the Century
My motivation for working on each issue of the AMWA Journal, from the beginning
of my appointment as editor in 1997 to now, is to showcase the very best our
association has to offer its members. What the "very best" of our association is
depends on many people, of course.
The very best, at its core, depends on individual members' becoming involved
in their profession (what one does) and their journal (expressing to colleagues
what one does), and not waiting for "the other guy" to step forward. Perhaps
because we are an association of writers (whose primary task it is to open their
veins on the blank page for all their colleagues to see how they really bleed) and editors (whose primary task it is to
spy out with great delight and no mercy any number of errors that occur within
the written word), I find that seeking out publishable material is my most
exquisitely painful, challenging, and rewarding task.
The very best of our association also depends on an entire team of people
involved at various stages in the publication process. I managed the complete
redesign of the AMWA Journal in 1997 with a superb graphic support staff
and with a supportive and (mostly) enthusiastic Executive Committee, which
understood the need for our association's publication to enter the 20th century.
Along the way I built up the Journal staff of manuscript reviewers. There are
now more than 10 AMWA members on the Journal Editorial Review Board (JERB) (a
past president and I shared an e-mail joke about renaming this group the Journal
Editorial Review Kommittee [JERK] because authors probably can't help but think:
"That JERK said what about my paper?!"). A member of the JERB has the
important job of performing peer review of manuscripts submitted to the AMWA
Journal. Early on I drafted an instruction sheet for reviewers, and now the
reviewers (whether experienced or new), with a typical AMWA sense of
completeness, duty, and collegiality, offer their comments to authors for
improving manuscripts for publication. If the manuscript is found unsuitable,
even with heavy reworking, I'm sure that some part of the author's brain at some
point wants to bark back: "That JERK said what about my paper?!"
Once an article is accepted for
publication, then this very best of our association gets further treatment from
manuscript editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders. Since 1997 I've waded through
several rounds of searches to find those AMWA souls who understand how to
complete their task in the method most applicable at the time, be it vicious,
gentle, mordant, supportive, or a combination of these. These characteristics
are a rare combination of skill, experience, and bravado and are not easily
At layout, the very best gets
treated to the skilled hands of our production staff, then our proofreaders
(once again), and the ever watchful eye of our executive director, Lillian
Since 1997 several new features have been introduced and continue to be
showcased in the AMWA Journal. One suggested by the final report of the
Long-Range Plan was the "From the Trenches" column, deftly written by Robert
Hand. Other features that I thought would provide valuable insight for readers
included interviews and roundtable discussions with leading figures in AMWA and
the field of biomedical communication. Roundtables have included educators,
freelance writers, and employment gurus; interviews have focused on leaders in
our association and plans for the future. This issue of the Journal will mark the introduction of our new
Multimedia Review column, with column editor Stan Goldman, Ph.D., an experienced
scholar and publications reviewer.
The "very best" does not rest. At least, not easily. If you've studied issues
of the AMWA Journal since 1997 you've noticed the use of a variety of
graphic and text tools to deliver messages. Call-outs, sidebars, fonts, screens,
figures, graphic elements, minireports: it's all part of the mix to enhance your
experience when you pick up your copy of the AMWA Journal. One of my current goals is to obtain a
Viewpoints submission from the president of a well-known research company on the
controversial nature of his company's business and impact on society. I'm always
open to suggestions for a Viewpoints column, which serves as an open forum for
any topic of interest to members of the biomedical communication profession.
Drop me a line if you believe you have something interesting to contribute. I'd
love to hear from you, and so would our readers.
The Vol. 14, No. 3, Summer 1999 issue was a milestone for our Journal.
Beginning with that issue, we began to be selectively indexed in the
Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature print index, the
CINAHL database, and the Cumulative Index of Journals in Education. The research
and application process was not a simple one, but the benefits our association
would appreciate over time would prove to be worthwhile, I believed, for the
wider audiences we would be able to reach.
And speaking of reaching wider audiences: pass your issue of the
Journal on to a
non-AMWA member who might be interested (and interested in becoming a member).
I've coordinated special mailings of past issues (notably the Vol. 13, No. 1,
1998, issue with the Educators Roundtable, which was sent to 200 professionals
involved with communication programs around the U.S.) and might do so in the
future, but word of mouth remains the surest method of our future growth.
Word of mouth is one way to
receive feedback from readers. Reader survey forms are another (more effective)
method. The most recent survey was conducted in 1998. Those results yielded many
suggestions for improvements and many supportive comments to keep going in
certain directions. It may be time again soon to ask for the opinions of
readers, so if you see a form in an upcoming issue, don't pass it by. Your
comments do count.
What would I say the future
holds for the very best that AMWA can produce? If the last few issues of the
Journal are any indication, I would say plenty of everything: from "how to"
articles to "my experience" articles to research articles (see the paper by
Ancker on page 24 in this issue). It's been my pleasure (and sometimes pain) to
labor over, shape, and package what you have to offer, and I'm looking forward
to a while of it.
M. J. Schiffrin wishes to express his
appreciation to all who made this historical account possible through their
contributions, encouragement, support, and patience. Among the many to whom he
owes thanks are Louis G. Buttell (AMWA president, 1981), Virginia T. Eicholtz
(AMWA president, 1977), Cathryn D. Evans (AMWA president, 1983), Edward J. Huth,
M.D. (AMWA president, 1968), Robert P. Hand, editor of the Journal's "From The
Trenches," Robert Jacoby, editor-in-chief, AMWA Journal, Arnold Melnick, D.O.
(AMWA president, 1975), Phyllis Minick (AMWA president, 1995), William D.
Nelligan (AMWA treasurer extraordinaire in the 1970s), Charles G. Roland, M.D.
(AMWA president, 1970), and Howard M. Smith (AMWA president, 1990).