Why “The Pulse” Has My Attention


Originally published on January 18, 2014 by Dr. Arigo

Philadelphia’s public radio station, WHYY, recently launched “The Pulse,” a weekly show devoted to “stories at the heart of health, science, and innovation.” As an academic health psychologist, Philadelphia resident, and public radio listener, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about this new venture. I have a schedule that doesn’t always permit tuning in to the broadcast, so podcast it is. (The wonders of modern technology! Some of it doesn’t appear to benefit the human condition in the long term, but that is for another post.)

I had very high expectations (hopes?) for this show, but also a few reservations. So much of what the media presents about science and research is simplified, sensationalized, and packaged to catch our increasingly limited attention spans. (See PhD comics for a funny and accurate summary.) Would this be an hour of the latest horrid headlines, with a few interviews edited to provide little additional information? I couldn’t help but acknowledge the possibility that “The Pulse” would not be my cup of tea.

Thankfully, my fears were unfounded, Host Maiken Scott, a behavioral health reporter for WHYY (@MaikenScott), and her team of contributors have delivered seven VERY strong episodes. Stories have included living with and recovering from traumatic brain injury; challenges to deciphering the cost of medical care and initial problems with healthcare.gov; an inside look at concussion care and prevention in youth sports; end-of-life decisions; and fights over patents on an effective treatment for blood cancer. Each of these stories has been connected to Philadelphia initiatives, issues, and concerns, and has featured interviews with people you can connect with – including the experts.

I’ll quickly note my two favorite pieces thus far. The first is a lead story honoring the 20th anniversary of the movie “Philadelphia,” which deals with the stigma of AIDS in the 1990s. I had watched this movie only a week or so before listening. Although I have an appreciation for the film and its impact, on this viewing, I found it impressively outdated and overwrought (though still full of outstanding moments). I also found myself noting something I learned from film friends a long time ago: the main character is the one who goes through a meaningful change during the film, not the one who influences him or her. From this perspective, there is no question that Denzel Washington’s Joe Miller is the main character, and I found his story much more compelling than that of Tom Hanks’s Andrew Beckett. (No offense to Tom, who I much admire, or his Oscar-winning performance in the role.) I appreciated the attention that “The Pulse” offered to the Joe Miller character, as well as the more prominent focus on the film’s extras (Philadelphia residents living with AIDS).

A second piece on “The Pulse” that really struck me was “The Spark,” a new segment on experiences that ignite passion in scientists and health professionals The first installment (January 10, 2014) included an interview with a medical ethicist, who told his story of receiving treatment for polio in the 1950s. Even as a boy, he recognized that treatment conditions (e.g., providers’ reluctance to discuss fellow patients’ deaths with children) needed improvement, and his career has been about this effort. Science provides wonderfully rewarding careers. But many of them involve long hours, underpayment, sickness (and death), unimaginable lengths and layers of red tape, and real challenges to making a difference. Despite these often-demoralizing aspects, I love my career, and identifying key moments in its development could keep me going if I ever get truly burnt out. Hearing others’ stories on this theme leaves me with a happiness and satisfaction that I’m sure amounts to an ounce (or more) of burnout prevention. I can’t wait to hear who else will be featured in “The Spark.”

“The Pulse” has my attention – I hope that it continues to spread. Follow the show @WHYYThePulse on Twitter.


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