Wikipedia is the top source of health information on the internet. While that fact has been the cause of great consternation over the years, it’s also an opportunity (some say an obligation) to provide reliable health information to the public.
Of course, time is in short supply for trained medical experts. Some do find the time to volunteer, and WikiProject Medicine is doing fantastic things. But another way to improve these articles is through medical students, under expert guidance.
Here’s an example from Saint Louis University’s SLU Biology 4970 course, led by Dr. Judy Ogilvie. That course is an independent study with student editors majoring in Biology and Neuroscience.
Respiratory arrest describes the loss of breath after lungs stop functioning, which can lead to a lack of oxygen to the brain, and a loss of consciousness. It’s a medical emergency that can lead to death in three minutes or less.
Since 2004, the respiratory arrest article ran a mere five sentences and a few bullet points. After student Wikipedian Shannon Tai tackled it, it’s blossomed into ten informative sections, some of which are the length of the original article. The respiratory arrest article now describes the symptoms and signs, diagnosis, and various treatments. It includes 17 references to a variety of reliable sources, such as medical journals.
The article is a powerful example of what a student can achieve on Wikipedia. That article has had 20,000 views since Shannon took it on. That’s 20,000 people with better information about health and biology. And it’s not just laypeople. Wikipedia is often the first point of reference for healthcare professionals.
This is just one example of many that show what the Wikipedia Year of Science campaign can achieve. We’re still getting ready for fall. We’re seeking instructors to share this powerful science writing, research and communications opportunity with students. If you’re interested, visit our Year of Science resources page or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.