Rhetoric of Health and Medicine: Public Experts

Directory of Resources

Experts in the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (RHM) field (rhetoric being the art of persuasion) are available to weigh in on current coverage about a host of topics. The word cloud below displays the highest recurring words in the journal, and can provide insight into the field of thought.

RHM scholars address how messages about the following topics (and many others) are communicated across various media:

  • the body
  • community/public health
  • physical and mental health and illness
  • diagnoses
  • treatments
  • societal implications of biotechnology and medical research
  • cultural responses to disease and pandemics

As you can see, the research of RHM intersects with that of many other disciplines and this project is dedicated to making the connections from one field to another. The researchers linked in the directory represent some of those disciplines, from communication to the social sciences to the philosophy of medicine, and offer important perspectives on how we think about health, wellness, disease, and illness, individually and collectively.

Following are some examples that show the expertise of scholars who work in the rhetoric of health and medicine:


My husband was on a ventilator in ICU for four days. He doesn’t remember, but I’ll never forget.

Ann E. Green’s opinion piece for The Philadelphia Inquirer outlines the days her husband spent on a ventilator 10 years ago and relates it to the current pandemic. She describes the emotional toll of being by his side while he was unresponsive and the aftermath once he woke up, emotionally and for their planning as a couple.


Welcome to the kingdom of the sick

Cynthia Ryan, in this article for Salon, writes about how the world is getting its first glimpse into the lives of people with health challenges as this pandemic unfolds. She describes how in January of 2020, she “guided students through the tenets of biomedicine, stages of clinical decision-making, and some of the problematic things we say to people who are suffering from physical or psychological disorders — like suggesting that cancer survivors can “win the fight” by adopting a positive attitude.” And then as the pandemic began in March she watched as her students’ ideas of the way we talk about illness came to life with COVID-19.

This Doctor Is Suggesting COVID-19 Lockdowns Are A Conspiracy To Take Away Your Freedom

Anne Helen Petersen wrote this article for Buzzfeed about Dr. Annie Bukacek, who has been using rhetoric to further the anti-lockdown movements during the COVID-19 pandemic. She claims that “that the “alleged death rate” due to COVID-19 has been significantly inflated in order to justify otherwise unjust stay-at-home orders.” Her authority as a doctor has offered a sense of credibility to the people who agree with her.


Pandemics are not wars

This article in Vox by Alissa Wilkinson analyzes the problematic nature of likening a pandemic to a war. She uses the analogy of the movie Arrival to talk about this predicament. The movie is about an international emergency and the different tactics each country uses to learn to communicate about it, she prints this quote:

“‘Let’s say that I taught them chess instead of English,” she says. “Every conversation would be a game. Every idea expressed through opposition, victory, defeat. You see the problem? If all I ever gave you was a hammer …”

“Everything’s a nail,” the commander says, suddenly catching on to her meaning. “

Wilkinson describes that the idea that the way we communicate influences the way we think is a “widely discussed linguistic theory” and can help inform the way we talk and learn about COVID-19.

Communicating About COVID-19

This blog post reposted on our website by Kirk St.Amant offers critical insight into creating “informational materials that help address local situations.” This work is important in order to increase knowledge, decrease misinformation, and thus decreasing fear. The strategies listed in this post include identifying COVID-19 symptoms, information on how to shop strategically, protocols on how to assess sources of information, caring for others, guidelines for virtual interactions, and then information on how to implement these ideas and get them out to the public.


“Make COVID-19 Visuals Gross”

In this post for the Medical Humanities blog, Kristin Marie Bivens and Marie Moeller examine the widely distributed visualization of the COVID-19 virus. They argue that the visuals need to be grosser in order to convey the truly horrific nature of the virus and its impact on society.


Please go to our Directory in order to find public experts in any area you might be interested in