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Entertaining Change


By Dan Gordon '85

Published Jan 1, 2015 1:00 PM

Why not make medical information accessible and compelling?


“There is a tendency among some experts to look down upon the use of an entertainment medium for serious health issues,” says Alina Palimaru, a doctoral student in UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. Palimaru feels differently. Her goal is to convey complex medical information in accessible, compelling ways to inform and empower patients.

“Carefully crafted and vetted content, with clever use of graphics, animation and live-action footage, can be an effective health education tool,” says Palimaru, whose filmmaking credits include From Darkness into Light, about coming to terms with a spinal cord injury.

Public health professionals know what it takes to be healthy, but they also need to communicate messages to diverse populations. Fielding students with creative talents find that their skills transfer and are in demand.

“Public health has made tremendous advances,” says Sandra de Castro Buffington, founding director of the Fielding School’s Global Media Center for Social Impact (GMI). “But we have to get much better at communicating with people in ways that are meaningful to them.”

GMI aims to increase action on important health issues by collaborating with writers, directors and producers. “Students grounded in public health principles who also have skills that enable them to engage and entertain, that’s a winning combination,” Buffington says.

“We often compete with major marketing companies with huge budgets that know how to tell a story and are promoting exactly what we’re against,” says Adam Carl Cohen M.P.H. ’10, a Fielding School doctoral student. Cohen intends to apply his talents in digital storytelling toward public health goals. “We need to find ways to cut through the campaign clutter and tell stories that people want to hear — stories that also promote health behaviors.”

In a new environment with cheaper production costs and online content distribution, budgets are no longer as much of a factor, Cohen says. Jill Donnelly M.P.H. ’14 had made her living being funny — on stage, online and on TV. During her time at the school, she accepted acting roles and found that those skills enhanced her ability to address problems of access to care for vulnerable populations.

“My public health job will be the priority,” says Donnelly, now a project director at L.A. Care Health Plan. “But entertainment can be a parallel career. And ideally, I’ll find a way to combine the two.”