RHM Researchers Connect at First VCRHM

note: this is a guest blog by Rachael Lussos, who shares with us a summary of the VCRHM. It’s wonderful to be able to share RHM activities and events. RHM is a vibrant community and events like VCRHM help raise our profile and are experiences with one another. Thanks, Rachael, for writing this up

On June 9, 2018, researchers in rhetoric of health and medicine (RHM) met at George Mason University (GMU) to identify mentorship and collaboration opportunities at the first Virginia Colloquium on the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (VCRHM).

Led by Heidi Y. Lawrence and Elizabeth Ferguson, VCRHM was created to connect RHM researchers of varying levels of experience, by providing a dedicated space and time to share RHM research interests, needs, and goals. By partnering with scholars from Virginia Tech—Bernice L. Hausman, Kelly Pender—and from James Madison University—Lori Beth De Hertogh, Michael J. Klein, Cathryn Molloy—Heidi Lawrence won a $16,500 Collaborative Research Grant from 4-VA to help fund the event. Due in part to this explicit goal of mentoring student researchers, the majority of the grant funding went to honoraria for student presenters and to compensation for GMU students—including Lourdes Fernandez and Rachael Graham Lussos—who helped plan, prepare, and conduct the one-day event.

The event kicked off with a keynote address by Kirk St.Amant, on the topic of the cultural context of care. He explained that different cultures—both internationally and locally—prioritize the point of intervention in healthcare in different ways. He then provided a heuristic for a “chronology of care,” to help RHM scholars and technical communicators consider user experience in healthcare contexts across cultures.

After the keynote and other presentations throughout the day, VCRHM participants engaged in lively and cumulative Q&A discussions with speakers and other participants. Jenny Moore’s presentation on her archival research of discourses by the La Leche League’s founding members generated questions and anecdotes on participants’ personal experiences working with the breastfeeding advocacy and support group. Elizabeth Ferguson’s presentation on the rhetorics of outbreaks and epidemics in Morbidity Mortality Weekly Reports sparked a discussion about the changing meaning of “epidemic” when applied to health conditions or activities instead of viral or bacterial diseases.Kelly Scarff’s presentation on citizen advocacy for construction of an Appalachian pipeline generated a conversation about the difference between rhetorical empathy and identification. Sarah Singer’s presentation on health literacy and Lyme disease led to a discussion about the construction and valuing of medical and scientific knowledge. Finally, leading a panel with two undergraduate researchers, Neil Feste and Prerna Das, Bernice Hausman started a conversation about collaborative research that involves faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from multiple disciplines.

In addition to the prepared talks and presentations, VCRHM included two semi-structured opportunities for participants to exchange ideas, grow their professional networks, and learn more about the wide range of RHM scholarship happening in Virginia and nearby states. Assigned groups met during lunch to make introductions and share observations on topics of professional development. Then a lightning round of informal presentations allowed researchers to briefly pitch current research projects and concerns, which were met with immediate feedback from researchers doing similar work.

Before closing, Heidi Lawrence solicited ideas from the VCRHM collective on how to help participants stay connected throughout the year, keep the day’s conversations going, and create a space for generating collaborative research efforts. After collecting suggestions for possible tools and processes, Heidi Lawrence closed the event with the expressed hope that having connected RHM researchers within and near the Commonwealth, we can look toward future collaborative efforts to engage community partners, perhaps beginning at the next VCRHM.

To learn more about VCRHM and see pictures from the 2018 event, visit http://www.vcrhm.org/

To learn more about how 4-VA funds collaborative research efforts, visit http://4-va.org/

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