Students return from first-ever Health Journalism in Cuba study away trip

From May 30 to June 8, a group of students from Grady College participated in a new study away Maymester program in Havana, Cuba.

The program, titled “Health Journalism in Cuba,” gave both undergraduate and graduate student travelers an in-depth look at the island nation’s healthcare system and how local and international journalists find and convey health stories to the public.

Students Delaney Tarr and Keshondra Shipp learn how to dance the salsa.
Keshondra Shipp (L) and Delaney Tarr (R) learn Cuban Salsa during a class at El Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas (CIPS) in Havana, Cuba, on June 6, 2022. (Photo: Maureen Costello)

“This unique, interdisciplinary program was such a valuable experience for all involved,” said Sabriya Rice, Knight Chair of Health and Medical Journalism at the College. Rice coordinated the program with the help of Hilda Mata of the Office of Global Engagement and Maureen Costello, of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. 

While there, students had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with Cuban health and science journalists, and they were able to speak with doctors, nurses and sports medicine specialists about a public health system that differs from what exists in the United States.

“It was amazing to observe ‘aha’ moments as they noted the differences and stepped outside of their comfort zones for this truly eye-opening intercultural exchange,” Rice added.

Over the course of the 10-day trip, students also had the opportunity to explore in and around Havana. They toured a nature reserve, tried local honey, visited radio and television studios, and, of course, visited local hospitals and clinics, among other activities.

“It was a great atmosphere. It’s a gem. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Keshondra Shipp, a Health and Medical Journalism graduate student, said about visiting Las Terrazas, a small, rural community outside of Havana.

To document their trip, students were tasked with creating blog posts and photo stories. Regularly, they were able to converse with health care professionals and journalists, as well as mass communication students at the University of Havana, about their experiences.

“Having the opportunity to do this sort of cultural exchange while in school is so important,” said Alex Anteau, also a Health and Medical Journalism graduate student.

“Despite the fact that the planet is very large, a lot of the problems people face are very universal – especially when it comes to health communication,” Anteau added. “On the whole, we are really dealing with similar issues, and it is really interesting to see how people with different backgrounds approach those challenges.”

  • Students visit the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) in Havana, Cuba. They are seated in front of portraits of José Martí (left) and Juan Gualberto Gómez (right). (Photo/Sabriya Rice)

Sabriya Rice receives re-election to AHCJ board of directors

The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) has selected Sabriya Rice, Knight Chair for Health and Medical Journalism, to its board of directors for an additional term. Rice will also serve as secretary of the board for this two-year period.

We asked Rice for more information on her selection and work with AHCJ.

Grady College: How long have you been a member of AHCJ? What does it mean to be involved for you?

Rice: “Through my employers, I had the opportunity to participate in many of AHCJ’s workshops and training sessions long before I officially became a member in 2014. My affiliation with the nonprofit has definitely made me a stronger, more cautious journalist.”

“It means a lot to be a part of a group that aims to improve the quality of journalism, particularly for those who find themselves on the massive health care beat. I definitely look back at some of the stories I wrote before being introduced to AHCJ and think to myself, ‘I’d totally approach that story differently now!’ And that is a good thing.”

GC: What drove you to run for the AHCJ board of directors? What has your experience been like?

SR: “There are two main factors that inspired me to run for the board. The first was wanting to give back in a meaningful way–by supporting the programs that helped to shape my reporting savvy, by sharing my personal insight and experiences as a member, and when possible, introducing new ideas to further our progress.”

“The second was to increase diversity among our members. The fact that there are large health disparities for people of color in the U.S. is well known. Having more representatives from those groups can help us tell those stories with nuance and empathy. We want to do this in a way that is less stigmatizing and ensures that the messages will reach the audiences most affected.”

“We have an amazing group that is not afraid to ask tough questions and take on new challenges. It’s been a rewarding experience that has helped me connect more purposefully with journalists from across the country and identify areas where AHCJ can have an additional impact.”

GC: How has your work on the board and the focus of AHCJ shifted with COVID-19?

SR: “Currently, I’m vice-chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know (RTK) committee, the advocacy arm that advocates for openness and transparency of public information. We provide resources for members striving to shed light on complex topics, and COVID-19 definitely falls into that category.”

“Nearly every journalist covered health care over the past few months, whether or not their typical beat was sports, politics, entertainment or education. One of our current RTK goals is to assess the real-time challenges journalists faced seeking public data on the spread of coronavirus.”

“We’re also curious about the deliberate sharing of bad information whether that be from public officials or trolls on social media—and how that is impacting both the quality of reporting and the workload of newsrooms.”

Sabriya Rice assesses journalism amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Sabriya Rice, Knight Chair for Health and Medical Journalism, has worked for some of the nations’ foremost authorities in medical journalism. She uses her experience now to train journalists covering medical events. We asked Rice for her thoughts on coverage surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How do you think journalism on COVID-19 compares to previous virus outbreaks?

Rice: “Over the course of my reporting career, I covered various disease outbreaks and concerning public health threats, including the Swine flu for CNN, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Ebola for Modern Healthcare, and Zika for The Dallas Morning News. However, one of the major differences I have noticed this time around has been the wall-to-wall coverage of the novel coronavirus, and how COVID-19 has affected nearly every journalism beat.

“I like to follow the top stories across a variety of beats— including politics, entertainment, sports, climate, and the financial markets. So I spend about an hour every morning reading, watching, or listening to stories on my phone’s News App. As a professor of health journalism, I also tend to look for examples to share with students of how reporters on those beats are sometimes tasked with covering health care stories.

“In late February, I took a screengrab because every top story across every beat was related to the coronavirus. That was an intense moment for me, and a sign that this would be different from any outbreak I covered in the past.”

Four months into the pandemic, what lessons have been learned on covering a global medical event?

Rice: “The COVID-19 pandemic has proven why health journalism is an important area of specialty, and why it is important for our government to create open channels of communication that make both data and subject matter experts available in a timely fashion.

Students from the Introduction to Health and Medical Journalism class tour Piedmont Athens Regional.(from l.) Andi Clements, Jillian Tracy, Madeline Laguaite, Brittany Carter and Sabriya Rice.
(Photo: Sarah E. Freeman, March 2020)

“In breaking news situations, reporters are scrambling to get the facts and share the latest, most accurate information. However, as we’ve seen during the COVID-19, there is the potential to share misinformation, misuse anecdotes, and to report on unvetted research. Those are some pitfalls that trained health journalists are more likely to avoid, though it remains a struggle.

UGA’s health and medical journalism program prepares the next generation of journalists on how to critically approach healthcare and science stories, so they can report accurately without confusing the public. I’m a board member of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), a nonprofit whose workshops and training programs that help elevate the quality of health journalism have definitely been in high demand.

“What we want to avoid is exactly what is depicted in one of my favorite parodies about the confusing messages communicated during the heart of  COVID-19 lockdowns. The parody, from country singer Adley Stump, called “What We Should All Be Doing Right Now” looks at how messages can be confusing when poorly communicated during a press conference. It clearly resonated, as the video has been viewed nearly four million times since it posted in April.

“And it speaks to something that AHCJ’s Right To Know Committee has been pressing for, which is access to information and experts from our top government health officials. It’s clear that there needs to be better working relationships between journalists and the government.”

With much conflicting information, how do you best determine what information is valid in regard to COVID-19?

Rice: “As journalism graduate student, Lexie Little, pointed out in a post last year following UGA’s State of the Public’s Health Conference,  health misinformation spreads quickly… and even more concerning is that, once it’s out there, it’s hard to convince people that the erroneous information they heard about is not actually true.

“The best thing is not to put it out there in the first place. As journalists, we must avoid reprinting press releases that can be riddled with spin. We’ve seen a lot of this recently, with pharmaceutical companies releasing data on potential vaccines that have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals, with hospitals sharing anecdotal evidence about treatments and cures and with individual scientists suggesting they have identified new strains and mutations of the coronavirus.

“We all need to apply a healthy bit of skepticism as consumers of information. As a reporter, one of the first things I look for in a story is an explanation of where the data came from. If the data is from a study, I expect the story to explain at least three things: 1) who funded the research — to understand if there could be a conflict of interest; 2) how many patients were included— to understand the potential scope and; 3) whether the information was published in a credible medical journal—which suggests that more than just the study’s researchers are on board with the findings.”

In your opinion, what is next for this pandemic/story?

Rice: “Before we dramatically shifted to coverage of COVID-19, all eyes were on the 2020 presidential candidates and how they planned to address the persistent challenges of health insurance coverage and health care access in the United States. Several policies were up for debate, including the potential introduction of subsidies for immigrants, expanding Medicaid in states that had not yet done so and the introduction of public options.

“If anything, this pandemic has highlighted the demand for further discussions.. COVID-19 put a spotlight, in real-time, on the gaping health care disparities faced by people of color and low-income communities, which put them at higher risk of death from the virus, and the huge divide in resources and access to care that exists between rural and urban areas. I anticipate, there will be many stories digging deeper into the existing policies in each state, with reporters investigating potential solutions that had been tabled and emerging ideas prompted by the pandemic response.

“Long term, I also anticipate more deep dives into the broader impact of coronavirus on a variety of health indicators. These may include mental health, as individuals coped with life in isolation; food insecurity, as farms and factories shut down and adjusted prices; and enrollment in Medicaid, as millions lost their jobs, and therefore, their employer-based health insurance. The increase in uninsured, paired with the fear of contracting COVID-19, led many to report skipping a medical appointment, and so reporters will be keeping an eye on whether we see an uptick in health problems not associated with coronavirus.”

Some of Grady College’s Health and Medical Journalism students have written about COVID-19 for Georgia Health News. You can read their work here:

Rice and her fellow Knight Chairs from higher education institutions across the country recently released a letter addressing violence against journalists during public protests. You can read that letter here.

Sabriya Rice named Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at Grady College

Sabriya Rice, a multi-media journalist with more than 15 years of experience in health reporting, has been named the new Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“We’re thrilled to add a journalist of Sabriya’s caliber to Grady College,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “She’s worked as a health and medical reporter in newspapers, magazines, in digital and in broadcasting—a true rarity. Her career path is reflective of the multi-platform, digital-first nature of the field these days, so we’re incredibly excited for what Sabriya brings straight from the profession to academia.”

Rice is a seasoned reporter covering health care, science and medicine. For the past two years, she has worked as the business of healthcare reporter for the Dallas Morning News, writing about trends in the health care industry. She also served as the quality and safety reporter for Modern Healthcare Magazine for three years, focusing on topics of quality and safety. Visual storytelling and graphics are important aspects of her multi-media features.

In addition to reporting, Rice has been a director of media relations for the American Cancer Society and a writer/producer for CNN, working with, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Elizabeth Cohen. Her focus on healthcare storytelling began with a series of jobs as producer and on-air reporter for Quest Network Blue Zones, a project that told stories of longevity and high life expectancy in international locations including Costa Rica and Greece.

The Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism is an endowed chair funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which supports journalistic, artistic and community endeavors. It is part of a national network of Knight Chairs in Journalism.

“Ensuring the next generation of journalists are equipped with the digital skills and know-how to address the important topics of our time is vital to ensuring a strong future for journalism,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “The dynamic experience Sabriya brings to this position will help Grady students meet this goal.”

Currently in its thirteenth year, the Knight Chair directs Grady’s Health and Medical Journalism master’s degree program, teaching students how to cover health and medicine through a variety of different storytelling platforms.

“Healthcare is a high stakes industry, and well-trained health and medical journalists play a crucial role in helping the public to sift through increasingly complex amounts of information,” Rice said of the responsibilities her new role holds.  “The demand is high as the nation continues to undergo major shifts in how healthcare is funded, as advances bring about new understanding of disease states and treatment, and as globalization facilitates the spread of emerging conditions. I look forward to helping prepare the next generation of health care communicators to ask tough questions, to know where to access data and to think creatively to reach the intended audience via multiple platforms.”

In addition to her new academic responsibilities, Rice also serves on the board of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

She has been the recipient of several fellowships including the Mayo Clinic-Walter Cronkite Medical Journalism Fellowship awarded this past May.

Rice has a Bachelor of Arts degree in film and television from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Miami.

The Knight Chair was formerly held by Patricia Thomas who retired in 2017. Knight Foundation has endowed more than two dozen chairs at leading universities to help educate the next generation of journalists, encourage classroom innovation, foster new technology and techniques, and contribute thought leadership to academia and the news industry alike.