By Robert Hand (

Under the title Legacy of Leadership, the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) held its 67th Annual Conference on October 11–13 in Atlanta, Georgia. About 1000 medical communicators of all stripes attended. As always, AMWA offered a full programme of 95 certificate and non-certificate workshops, as well as 43 open sessions in which panels of experts addressed issues of concern to present and potential medical writers. Of note, AMWA launched its new science fundamentals certificate programme.

Formal banquets provided the setting for presenting key AMWA awards. The John P. McGovern Medal, for pre-eminent contributions to medical communication, was awarded to Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Dr. Gerberding’s absence, Steven L. Solomon, MD, Director of the Coordinating Center for Health Information and Service at CDC, accepted the award on her behalf. He then spoke of the challenges and opportunities of communicating science “in a flat world where information is perpetual, pan-global, participatory, personalised, and portable, as well as sometimes unedited, uncredentialled, unverified, untruthful, and unethical.”

The Walter C. Alvarez Award, for excellence in communicating healthcare developments and concepts to the public, went to Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH, Vice President for Academic Health Affairs at the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Koplan discussed major health challenges such as avian flu and obesity that threaten all nations and showed how working with people in other parts of the world is yielding solutions to common health problems.

AMWA’s highest award, the Harold Swanberg Distinguished Service Award, for major contributions to medical communication and the medical profession, went to Elliott Churchill, MS, MA, President of A World of Words. Churchill spoke of “mountains, molehills, and memories”, describing her long career as Senior Communications Officer at CDC, which included work with local physicians and other healthcare professionals in more than 90 countries.

Many of the workshops and open sessions focused on the nuts and bolts of medical writing and preparation of regulatory documents, training materials, and other types of documents. However, workshops also addressed principles of pharmacoeconomics, as well as ethical standards. Open sessions included public health challenges in an era of global connectivity and communication revolution; the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes; predictive health (a novel paradigm for disease prevention); emergency health care: an emerging national crisis; health care on the margins: reaching out to the disenfranchised; and heart disease in women and AHA’s guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in women.

Further information about AMWA can be found at

Robert Hand is a former president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of AMWA.