Med Ed Day Sees Progress in Curriculum Reform
Harvard Health Publications Celebrates 30th Birthday
The publishing arm of HMS, Harvard Health Publications, will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Nov. 15, marking three decades of engaging the public on important health issues, a period that spanned momentous advancements in biomedicine.
The inaugural publication, Harvard Health Letter (then called The Harvard Medical School Health Letter), was published in November 1975. “We were in the infancy of the ‘genetic engineering’ revolution back then. Medical science had just recently figured out how to manipulate DNA and determine the structure of individual genes,” writes Health Publications editor in chief Anthony Komaroff. “We could start imagining a future in which genetic defects might be corrected before they did harm.”
The founding editors of the Health Letter, HMS faculty members Timothy Johnson and Stephen Goldfinger, were acting on their belief that the public had a growing need for reliable health information—particularly true in such a dynamic environment—and that the Harvard Medical community was rich enough in clinical and research expertise to fill it. Though the substance of the publication had a firm base, the operation was launched on a wing and a prayer, since the faculty and staff who pitched in were amateurs when it came to publishing. Nevertheless, content led the way and the Health Letter caught on.
Initially, virtually everything was done in-house, including monthly distribution to bulk subscribers. The business end was eventually taken over by Harvard University Press and R.L. Polk. Within five years the Health Letter had 300,000 subscribers, facilitating the launch of other health newsletters and in-depth Special Health Reports. A look back at the early content shows that the editors were on target in expressing concerns about estrogen replacement, emphasizing the importance of colon cancer screening, and advocating control of blood pressure to prevent strokes, among other issues they featured.
By 1999, Harvard Health Letter was joined by Harvard Mental Health Letter, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard Men’s Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter as well as nine Special Health Reports. Today the Harvard Health Publications newsletters have a combined circulation of 640,000, and there are more than 50 Special Health Report topics.The HMS publisher also has issued nine books with Simon and Schuster and seven with McGraw-Hill; six more with McGraw-Hill will be out shortly, and 21 more are scheduled to come out by 2009. Harvard Health Publications also works with Newsweek on all health-related issues and has added a weekly syndicated newspaper column and a monthly electronic newsletter, HealthBeat, with a circulation of 39,000.
In the last 30 years, developments in medicine and the biomedical sciences
have also been dramatic. Cancer treatment is much further refined; organ
transplantation is well established and more effective; imaging technology
reveals once-hidden areas of the body; genetics is yielding insight into
the molecular mechanisms of diease; and stem cells promise new regenerative
therapies. The list goes on. And the public’s desire to learn about
this kind of progress has
Attending the Health Publications’ 30th anniversary celebration on Nov. 15 will be Health Letter founding editors Johnson and Goldfinger as well as members of the editorial advisory board, many of whom have been involved with the publisher since its inception.