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Future Doctors Write, Edit for Wikipedia

Dr. Amin Azzam, who leads a class in which medical students learn to edit Wikipedia content, works on a page. / Susan Merrell/UCSF News Services

Dr. Amin Azzam, who leads a class in which medical students learn to edit Wikipedia content, works on a page. / Susan Merrell/UCSF News Services

From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

Over the years, some teachers and editors have said they do not trust the information on the website Wikipedia. They say some of the people who provide the pieces for the website may not be qualified to write them. But recently, an American medical school has provided an unusual course meant to aid doctors and other Wikipedia users.

Students at the medical school of the University of California, San Francisco are taking a class that teaches them how to write and edit for the WikiProject Medicine part of Wikipedia. Dr. Amin Azzam, a health sciences associate clinical professor, leads the course.

Dr. Azzam asks his students to read Wikipedia, identify missing information and update pieces on the site. He says the students need to do this from their own medical knowledge and from dependable medical sources.

“What I hope to do in helping them with this elective is to appreciate that the global system of Wikipedia is a system. Since Wikipedia is the fifth, sixth or seventh most heavily trafficked web page on the planet consistently, and since that’s where people go for medical information, perhaps our students can see themselves as citizens of the global, health-information-seeking community and make a difference that way.”

Medical student Raquel Kronen works on her Wikipedia editing project. (VOA / Jan Sluizer)

Medical student Raquel Kronen works on her Wikipedia editing project. (VOA / Jan Sluizer)

Fourth-year medical student Raquel Kronen signed up to take the course. She has medical knowledge. Still, her writing needs improvement. Ms. Kronen says you need both skills to be a Wikipedia editor.

“You have to be able to know your information, transcribe your information in a way that’s appropriate for the general public, and then really, just, write in a clear fashion.”

Students first attend some intensive classes. A guide explains how to present material on Wikipedia. The writing must be understandable to people who read at the sixth-grade level. The piece must open with a four-sentence paragraph. All sentences must be less than 24 words. The writing also needs to be simple, because the articles are translated into 100 languages.

WikiProject Medicine has 32,000 health-related pages ranked in order by importance and quality. Dr. Azzam’s students must improve one of the pages. They usually choose among the 100 lowest ranked. Students have updated articles on two liver diseases, diabetes, white blood cells and race and health.

One of the highest-ranked pages tells about Ebola. That page has been viewed many millions of times.

James Heilman reduced his hours as a Canadian emergency room doctor to spend more time on the Ebola page. Ten or 12 others work with him. Dr. Heilman is one of few editors whose name is known. Identities of Wikipedia's volunteer editors generally are not given.

Student Raquel Kronen said she chose an article on post-partum depression because she had a friend with the disorder. She started with what she described as a “pretty well-developed article.

“Changing some of the terminology to be more accessible, putting the ideas in a context that was easier to understand for someone without a medical background.”

Raquel Kronen said she is trying to decide what is useful to put in her chosen article. She said she keeps asking herself what her friend would want to know.

Dr. Azzam says editing for the online encyclopedia should be taught in every medical school. The doctor has come to trust Wikipedia’s health information. And, he is helping students learn to improve its accuracy.

Still, he tells people that it is best to confirm its information with other sources -- including doctors.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Jan Sluizer reported this story for VOA from San Francisco. Jeri Watson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Catherine Weaver was the editor. ​


Words in this Story

update – v. to change something by including the most recent information

translate v. to change words from one language into another language

rank v. to place (someone or something) in a particular position among a group of people or things that are being judged according to quality, ability, size, etc.

view v. to see, watch or look at a movie, TV show, a webpage, etc.

accuracy – n. freedom from mistake or error; correctness

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in this Story. In the comments section, write your opinion about this project to update medical information online. Do you search for medical advice on the Internet? How do you know that what you find is accurate or current information?

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