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January 2012

Radio Hopkins

Date: January 10, 2012

Community Outreach


Hopkins Radio
In the studio, Karen L. Swartz (left) talks about holiday depression and losing a loved one to violence. Listening to her expert comments are Brian Gibbs, Wenda Royster and Malcolm Brock.

Johns Hopkins physicians and other health experts are making airwaves with a weekly radio program that addresses challenges facing underserved minorities, who often lack health care access and information.

Breaking It Down: Our Health, Our Way is a live, 60-minute broadcast featuring Q-and-A with Johns Hopkins Medicine experts, host Wenda Royster and listeners who call in to the show. “This is a way we can go and sit in the living room or at the kitchen table with any of our listeners and just have a conversation about their health,” says Brian Gibbs, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine associate dean for diversity and cultural competence.

Breaking It Down generates candid conversation on issues affecting low-income communities while acknowledging and offering solutions to health care barriers, such as lack of insurance or transportation. Each month, the show addresses a particular health topic through a series of episodes that highlight different aspects of the issue. A recent series on nutrition featured registered dieticians, a weight loss physician, a public health expert and Baltimore’s food policy director. The guests shared their expertise on such topics as healthy eating habits and obesity.

Engaging in dialogue with clinicians outside of hurried office appointments helps strengthen the relationship between health care providers and their patients, says Royster, an experienced Baltimore broadcast journalist. “You really get to know the person’s soul because of their voice,” she says. “You get to know them and trust them without seeing them.” Most importantly, Royster says the program gives people hope. “The subjects are approached in such a way that anyone can understand the topic and what they can do moving forward.”

The idea that others could benefit from hearing about his struggle with depression prompted Pastor Marvin Jones to be a guest on the show. Jones says, like many of his faith community members, he equated depression with personal weakness—not illness—until a friend who is a physician encouraged him to seek treatment. After appearing on the show, he was surprised to learn many of his own family members are facing depression but never talked about it. Jones says he’ll continue to fight the stigma of mental illness by sharing his story and telling others how treatment has helped him.

Created by the school of medicine as a way to address health disparities, the radio show embodies Hopkins’ mission of improving the health of the community. “We’re bursting at the seams with people who are the world’s leaders on so many diseases, and yet within a mile radius of the hospital, you have so many people in dire need of this information,” explains Malcolm Brock, chief medical consultant for the radio program and thoracic surgeon at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Brock and Gibbs wanted a radio format that would reach community members who may not have online access to accurate and reliable health information. Since the first episode aired in September 2010, listenership has climbed to more than 25,000 people each week, including online listeners, Gibbs says.

While most listeners are local, some have dialed in from as far away as Mississippi, according to Gibbs. Health care professionals throughout the country and from such remote places as Afghanistan have inquired about the program in their search for similar solutions to address disparities in health education. Gibbs hopes the show will someday become syndicated. The medical school is also laying the groundwork for a local Spanish radio or cable TV health program, which they hope to launch in the spring.

To listen to Breaking It Down: Our Health, Our Way, tune in to WOLB 1010 AM on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Recordings of past programs are available at hopkinsmedicine.org.

—Shannon Swiger

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