“It feels really powerful to have a forum to reach this many people and to provide them with potentially helpful information. I certainly don’t reach this many people during direct patient care or through publications in medical journals.”
Everyone uses Wikipedia. Even our doctors.¹
So doesn’t it make sense to invite medical professionals into the Wikipedia community to help create and update that information?
That’s exactly what our Wikipedia training course in partnership with the Society of Family Planning (SFP) has accomplished.
One participant, an OB/GYN, tackled the Wikipedia page about doulas. She not only brought her professional expertise to improve the page, she also approached it as a consumer of that information. The SFP scholar was pregnant while she made her edits!
“The page combined my personal experience as a pregnant person who was planning to have a doula at birth, professional experience as an obstetrician-gynecologist who participates in childbirth and abortions on a regular basis, and a researcher who studies humanistic approaches to reproductive healthcare provision,” she shared with Wiki Education in an interview.
The open encyclopedia is only as accurate and complete as those who choose to engage in its curation and creation. And we all have interests and expertise that make us uniquely qualified to tackle certain topics. The more perspectives and angles of expertise represented on the encyclopedia, the better that information reflects the lives, experiences, and interests of the people searching for it.
Not only does improving Wikipedia do a great service for the world, but it can be a valuable personal experience as well. We’ve heard from participating scholars that the process of learning how to ‘edit’ is a great chance to revisit their own research and see it in a different light. Then there’s just the delightful experience of going down the rabbithole of academic discovery again.
“I noticed that the Wikipedia page needed some restructuring to be more inclusive of non-birth doulas and to have stronger references,” the SFP scholar said of her Wikipedia work. “In this process, I found scholarly writings that I had not been aware of before, and read many of them with great interest, since it was not only relevant professionally but also personally. Revising this page also motivated me to stop procrastinating and to work on my research on birth and abortion experiences. The literature review I did for the doula page had a lot of overlap with what I was already working on.”
While this OB/GYN typically focuses on primary research articles in her professional work, Wikipedia’s preference for secondary sources required that she do more of a broad review that included scholarly books. While perusing these relevant books on her Kindle, she noticed something.
“My Kindle linked to the Wikipedia entry ‘doula’ that I was in the process of editing! Immediately, I recognized the impact that Wikipedia has and felt the pressure to do a good job.”
We might all agree that everyone having access to accurate and complete information before making health decisions is important. But this sort of public engagement can be a daunting task, one that requires constant re-evaluation, expansion, and updating. Luckily, equipping the public with knowledge of science and medical research is a mission that can be done collectively and collaboratively.
“Needless to say, the current version of the doula page still has work that needs to be done,” the SFP scholar noted. “I’m hoping someone knowledgeable about end-of-life doulas will contribute, too. Since completion of the course, I have told many people, including my doula team, to check it out and get involved.”
So many medical professionals, academics, and experts in general have knowledge that would be a great fit for Wikipedia’s content. But many don’t have the time or technical know-how to get that information into the hands of the public where they’re looking for it. That’s where a course like this comes in handy. SFP sponsored seats for their members because they recognized the value of giving experts the dedicated time and support to do public engagement work. Ultimately, these scholars are making the world a better place by translating the latest research for a non-expert audience and making that information free.
“As medical professionals, we have acquired expertise over many years of rigorous training but have few outlets to share what we know with a large audience. Certainly our daily interactions with patients matter, yet Wikipedia creates an opportunity to disseminate what we know to many more people, and have far-reaching impact.”
The doula page receives more than 1,000 views every day. The SFP scholar rewrote the introduction, added multiple sections, and restructured existing content. Previously, the page only referenced doulas in relation to childbirth. Now the new paragraphs reflect that doulas are involved in other capacities, as well, including with miscarriage, abortion, and end-of-life care.
“It feels really powerful to have a forum to reach this many people and to provide them with potentially helpful information. I certainly don’t reach this many people during direct patient care or through publications in medical journals. Ultimately, I hope that it entices readers to consider having a doula support them (or their loved ones) in their major life transitions, or at minimum, helps readers see that these life transitions do not have to be experienced alone without support.”
This project is sponsored by the Society of Family Planning (SFP) with the hard work of Amanda Dennis, Jenny O’Donnell, and other staff members. SFP has sponsored 32 seats since June 2019. Participation for accepted SFP members is free. If you’re interested in buying out a customized professional development course for members or staff of your organization or institution, contact Director of Partnerships Jami Mathewson at firstname.lastname@example.org.