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Alumni Dispatches

Barbara Gastel

MD, MPH ’78

Teaching Biomedical Writing Internationally

barbara gastel Education in public health can open up new worlds. My MPH year literally did so for me, and it has helped me to contribute internationally.

I obtained my MPH in my last year of medical school instead of spending the year taking clinical electives. During the previous months, I had decided to combine my interests in health and communication through a career in biomedical writing and editing. As preparation, I wanted more background in epidemiology, biostatistics and other fields of public health.

At the School of Public Health, I obtained excellent such background. I also developed strong international interests—from my courses and from my classmates, who came from around the world. I dreamed of working overseas. But did international opportunities exist for someone in biomedical communication?

An answer came a few years later, while I was teaching science writing at MIT. The phone rang—and the caller asked whether I would like to teach for a while at Beijing Medical College (now Peking University Health Science Center), which wanted its faculty to publish more in English-language international journals. I accepted the invitation and spent from 1983 to 1985 teaching faculty and graduate students in China. The years were very rewarding, and I treasure them. I also treasure the friendships I maintain with public health school faculty and others I taught there.

My time in China has provided a foundation for wider-ranging international work, which I now pursue while a professor at Texas A&M University. For a decade, beginning in the mid-1990s, I worked with a Beijing colleague in developing and running a program to teach English-language biomedical writing and editing in China and other Asian countries. Distinctive features included online coordination of teaching at multiple sites, online lessons in biomedical editing, and provision of editorial internships in the United States and Canada.

My current international work includes serving as “knowledge community editor” for AuthorAID @ INASP (, a project to help researchers in developing countries to write about and publish their work. My role includes providing an online resource library (which now includes materials in several languages), writing a weekly blog, and giving workshops on research communication—most recently in Bangladesh, Nicaragua, and Rwanda. I continue to receive indications that work over the years is indeed facilitating scientific communication.

More than I could have dreamed of as an MPH student!

Barbara Gastel is professor of integrative biosciences and of humanities in medicine at Texas A&M University, where she coordinates the master’s degree program in science and technology journalism.

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