As a rhetorician of health and medicine, I combine my expertise in writing research and teaching writing  with my life-long commitment to advocacy. In doing so, I advocate for change in how we teach and practice writing  in healthcare and university settings.

MFD Firefighter for a Day
At MFD’s Firefighter for a Day. Photo credit: Dawn Haase.

I study how healthcare communication practices can be better understood and improved by using best practices and theories from rhetoric and technical communication. Working closely with healthcare professionals, I identify gaps in medical communication that can be addressed through mutually beneficial, applied research that involves researchers, teachers, the community, and medical professionals.

My research projects are guided by two questions:

How do healthcare professionals manage their unpredictable workplace environment? How do they write in that context?

I answer these questions in my first book, Rhetorical Work in Emergency Medical Services: Communicating in the Unpredictable Workplace (Routledge, 2019), which won the 2020 Conference on College Composition and Communication’s Best Book in Technical and Scientific Communication Award. Specifically, I investigate how communicators harness rhetoric’s power to stabilize unpredictable medical workplace environments. Using EMS as my research site, I found that communicators rely on memory tricks to facilitate communication, and they draw on their senses and intuition.

Their writing, like all writing, is more than just the product, which is known as the patient care report in EMS. My book focuses on the processes–learned and innate–that support medical documentation.

This book is meant for academics and practitioners. Each chapter ends with concrete takeaways for both audiences, and Chapter 7 contains teaching activities that writing teachers, EMS instructors, fire science instructors, and anyone else who teaches high-stakes workplace writing can use to improve the processes that support effective workplace writing.

How do workplace writers in training courses, like EMS and fire science, learn how to write high-stakes workplace documents?

My current (and largest) research project investigates how the traditional college-age learner population enrolled in non-academic medical training courses transfers previous knowledge about writing into these courses and, subsequently, into the medical workplace. I’m conducting a multi-cohort six-year longitudinal project with a local fire department, and this study has two phases.

The first three years are dedicated to a pilot study in which I’m learning how trainees are taught and are learning writing and the processes that underlie it, like sensory and situational awareness.

The second three years are dedicated to implementing a writing curriculum, which I will develop based on findings from the pilot study. In implementing this curriculum, I will measure its effectiveness to see what kinds of writing activities impact trainee learning and lead to improved workplace documentation.

How does training in mobile medicine fields align with the work providers do in the field?

The field of mobile medicine is an emerging field in first responder and public health fields, and includes aeromedical, community paramedicine, critical care (ground, air, water), emergency medical services, fire service, and non-emergency medical transport. To prepare providers to enter these spaces, training programs theoretically follow national and state-level standards as set by National EMS Scope of Practice Model and National EMS Standards. Less explored is how training entities actually create, deliver, and assess initial training and how providers receive and use training on-the-job. Likewise, training sites often cover topics that are not addressed in national and state standards, like anti-racism, active listening, and empathy; yet, these essential skills are not required by federal and state standards.

To examine this gap, I worked with the Congress of Mobile Medical Professionals’ (COMMP) sub-group on education and professional to create a national survey, which is currently open for responses. COMMP is a grassroots think tank dedicated to advancing, advocating, and unifying prehospital medicine.

What models of report writing best facilitate the EMS writing process?

Current models of EMS report writing, “CHART” and “SOAP,” that are taught in training courses were imported into EMS from hospital-based medical practice. To date, these models haven’t been tested to see if they help or hinder EMS narrative writing, and preliminary data suggests that most EMS providers do not use these models.

In response, I am working with a suburban fire-based EMS agency to develop and test a new writing model that is developed specifically for EMS providers.