Health conference kicks off today, includes play

Sometimes, it can feel like doctors are speaking a different language.

The Communication and Social Action Conference wants to offer suggestions for how to better understand the health world. The conference takes place today and Thursday in Moore Hall’s Townsend Kiva and is free and open to the public.

The event’s committee had specific goals it wanted to achieve when planning began for the conference.

“We wanted to look at communication, social action, health issues and how they relate,” said Mary Ann Renz, event coordinator and professor of communication and dramatic arts.

The conference will kick off with a keynote speech by Neera Tanden at 7 p.m. today. Tanden is the chief operating officer for the Center for American Progress. She was formerly Hillary Clinton’s senior adviser.

Her speech is titled, “Big Change, Big Challenges: Communicating Health Reform in an era of 24-hour news.”

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, speakers will address the issue of health literacy. The session “From Vaccines to Viagra: Social Implications of Health Communication Campaigns” will take place at 12:30 p.m. Then, at 2 p.m., Nancy Eddy, an assistant professor of communication and dramatic arts, will present “Ending the Silence about Mental Illness.”

The Waiting Room

The final event begins at 5 p.m. Thursday and is a theatre performance of “The Waiting Room,” co-written and directed by Jill Taft-Kaufman, professor of communication and dramatic arts. The performance is based on interviews with cancer survivors, their loved ones and their doctors.

Taft-Kaufman’s husband had brain cancer for 19 years.

“For me, personally, after my husband’s death, I had been thinking a lot about what it means to live and what it means to have that sort of interruption of living thrown on you,” Taft-Kaufman said.

As time when on, she realized how many people are directly affected by the discovery of cancer among loved ones or among themselves.

The script itself features six characters whose lives have been touched by cancer in a major way, based on personal narratives and fictionalized a bit.

“We ended up using almost all their words directly because they were so incredibly insightful and compelling,” Taft-Kaufman said. “We took down a script that reflected those interviews so it’s about the experiences of various people in a hospital waiting room; their past, their present and their hopes and fears for the future.”

There also will be a discussion after the play. Two other performances will take place after the conference that are independent of the communication conference: one at 2 p.m. Sunday and another at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“This conference addresses very important health issues,” said Salma Ghanem, College of Communication and Fine Arts dean. “Especially now, because of the universal health care bill.”