UAB students in early med school program learn the art of writing, publishing

Three University of Alabama at Birmingham sophomores have spent the summer of 2010 learning what it takes to become a published writer.

As paremsapt of the UAB Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP), the students - Rachel Rosales, 19, of Athens, Ala.; Allen Young, 19, of Madison, Wis.; and Michelle Chang, 19, of Edison, N.J. - learned the writing and editing process by helping UAB Professor of Philosophy and Bioethics Gregory Pence, Ph.D., edit a new book, How to Build a Better Human. They also had op-eds accepted by newspapers the Birmingham News and Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Every EMSAP student gets a $1,000 research stipend," says Pence, who has written, co-authored and edited nearly a dozen books. "The goal here is to get the students involved in some kind of internship, whether it is in a laboratory or an internship in writing.

"I hope that the students will gain an appreciation of how hard it is to write. For me, clear writing and clear thinking go together. The late, great UAB physician Harriet Dustan taught me that decades ago," he says.

Rosales says editing the book has helped the students see what goes into publishing. "I know now that a writer may go through multiple drafts," she says. "The process has made me more aware of how I write and how others write."

Young says working with Pence gave him greater insight into the history of Alabama and the local medical and scientific community.

"I have learned a lot in this process," says Young, "and I think that this experience has given me a lot of information that I can now write and talk about."

EMSAP is a select program that gives academically gifted high school seniors admission to the UAB School of Medicine immediately after high school graduation, provided that they complete a baccalaureate degree at UAB. Students accepted into UAB EMSAP who complete their UAB bachelor's degree have a reserved place in the School of Medicine.

Pence selected the three students for the internship from an EMSAP seminar "Narrative Medicine," in which students were encouraged to write about medical issues and their personal impressions of the medical field.

Pence also wanted the students to experience what it is like to work with editors, so he asked them to write and submit their own op-eds to local and national newspapers. Pence himself has published numerous opinion pieces in Newsweek and in national newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.

"At first, I was a little scared," says Rosales, who wrote her op-ed about Arizona's controversial immigration law. "I'm so young, and I thought, 'What makes me, as a 19-year-old, someone that people will want to listen to?'"

Rosales' op-ed "We'll Let Immigrants Do Our Dirty Work," was published in The Birmingham News July 11, 2010. The newspaper also published Young's piece about his medical missionary work in Ghana, "Travel Abroad Shows Excesses at Home," June 27. Chang's op-ed, "The Real Price of an iPhone," about the recent suicides of nearly a dozen workers at a Foxconn factory in southern China, appeared in the July 30 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"The biggest surprise for me was just how frustrating it can be to get an op-ed published," says Chang. "I first submitted the op-ed to a news magazine. When I didn't hear back from them, I then submitted it to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"It was definitely a surprise when I learned that the newspaper was going to publish my op-ed," Chang says. "Having written the op-ed, I'm now much more interested in writing about current events and expressing my own opinions."

In addition to editing the book, the students also are writing articles, which they plan to submit to a bioethics journal later this year.