A Picture and a Thousand Words - Outreach Efforts with AMWA

Tonya Hines, AMI President AMI Speakers Bureau

tonyahinesanddoughaneline2Tonya Hines, CMI, AMI President and Douglas Haneline, PhD, AMWA President. Photo by Picture America Event Photographers

I had the distinct pleasure of attending and speaking at the American Medical Writers Association (amwa.org) meeting, “Expanding Our Horizons,” in Columbus, Ohio. Armed with a mission to promote the benefits of text and images working more closely together, I was struck by the fact that the writers themselves were already disseminating the message.

Medical writers work in the same settings as medical illustrators and animators; about one-third are freelancers. Some writers are involved in the design of user experience, slide decks, data figures, and CME modules. Every session I attended provided an opportunity to speak about how medical illustrators can be partners in their projects. Plain language and health literacy were hot topics that allowed me to interject points on visual clarity, symbols and audience appropriateness.

While AMWA meetings are much larger than AMI (e.g., 72 open sessions, 30 roundtable discussions and 63 workshops), there are many similarities between our two associations:

  • • Members are open, friendly and willing to share their knowledge
  • • Education is the focus, but camaraderie and friendship are eagerly displayed
  • • Technical skill, accuracy and ethics are differentiators for their craft


The highlight of the meeting was the keynote address by Gregory Curfman, MD, Executive Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Drawing on testimony he delivered before Congress, he compared and contrasted the regulation of drugs versus devices. He told a careful story of legal loopholes between 510(k) clearance versus PMA approval interwoven with lobbying and financial interests tied to the Affordable Care Act and the Medical Device Tax (which was used as a bargaining chip to reopen the government shutdown).

I also hosted a lunch roundtable, “Medical Illustrators: The Other Medical Communicators,” where I spoke about our members’ award-winning work, the AMI website, board certification, the Sourcebook, and common practices in licensing and permissions.

The outreach efforts gained by presenting at association meetings and talking face-to-face with other creatives is immeasurable. I spoke with the AMWA President Doug Haneline, PhD, and will pursue stronger ties between our associations. I’ve been encouraged to submit an article on medical illustration for the AMWA journal and to speak again next year.

Medical writers are uniquely poised to advise authors early in the preparation of text to include well-designed visuals for increased comprehension and literacy. Medical illustrators have the training and education to create focused graphics that—like concise text—best educate the reader.

Close collaboration between medical illustrators and writers fosters our mutual goals of health and science education and perhaps creates a new twist to the adage, "A picture and a thousand words."