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A perfect time to reflect (and act?)…

…Is this to do with the coming of:
1. the festive season;
2. a new year;
3. the incessant reminders of the credit crunch;
4. being a psychiatrist;
5. the recent systematic review on the prevalence of mental disorders in the homeless in PLoS Medicine (the first paper I saw through the whole editorial process); OR
6. the end of my time at PLoS Medicine as an editorial intern

I would think it is probably ALL of the above. I started as an editorial intern at PLoS Medicine in April – I have to confess that it was the organization that attracted me and not the opportunity to be involved in editorial work although this has been extremely educational and challenging.

My career path has been far from conventional to date, veering off the beaten track that tends to be quite prescriptive in the medical world. Hence, I can see quite clearly why I would have been attracted to an organization like PLoS, “a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.” The core principles in itself are surely enough to ignite, at the very least, a sense of curiosity. As with all organizations, it comes down to the people and it has been particularly inspiring and educational to have had the opportunity working with the ones behind PLoS Medicine (the monthly editorials is a platform for the editors to have a “shout” and I think a great insight into what counts for people is what they shout about…so have a look).

Over the months, I have become acquainted with debates on
Open Access, Impact Factors, Reporting Guidelines, Competing Interests…issues, that may appear on first glance to be only of interest to editors, researchers etc but I have started to realize the large impact they actually have on us all. The reason is that regardless of where you live, what social economic group, race, age, educational background/level etc you are/have – one thing that helps make life better is being in good health (needless to say that includes mental health). There are many ways in which, unfortunately, we will all in our lifetime have both direct and indirect experience of health problems and it is at these times that I want to know that healthcare providers in any and every part of the world will have access to the best and most relevant, up-to-date information when making treatment decisions; that funders of research, who might be seen as the care-takers of everyone’s invested interest, are making the decision to invest in research projects that show potential to help us better understand diseases and their treatments based on objectivity.

Healthcare is complex – it can also be very expensive and emotive. Difficult decisions and priorities have to be made – demand will outstrip supply. I don’t think it is rocket science to realize that this can only be helped by openness and transparency so that objective scrutiny can be used to make judgments on what we need to prioritize and pursue.

We all have agendas, declared or undeclared, conscious or not (and we are all open to influence)…mine is influenced by my chosen medical specialty – I am a psychiatrist. I find the mind-body interface fascinating and think it is virtually impossible to detach one’s mental health from any physical condition. Also, I think that being interested in the wider world and the welfare of those who co-habit it is greatly beneficial to one’s own mental health – the rewards of giving/caring.

Therefore, I will be leaving this experience with a better understanding of why the notion of a Public Library of Science is best served with the word ‘Public’ leading the way – well, what I mean is that anyone can access what’s in it freely. In my opinion, PLoS isn’t just another publishing platform or collection of journals; it is the start of a movement where we the beneficiaries (everyone) need to start demanding that in exchange for our time, money and “pathologies”, the many industries involved and have evolved in the generic healthcare/scientific world need to realize that we want transparency and accessibility.

So, would I recommend being an editorial intern at PLoS Medicine?…YES, in fact, I would go further and recommend that everyone should grab any opportunity that comes their way to be involved at any level with PLoS…this may include just reading a paper and knowing that everyone else can!!

Lastly, please indulge me by allowing me to publicly extend a BIG THANK YOU to the team at PLoS Medicine (and the rest of PLoS, of course) for giving me this opportunity to learn from you and to have worked with you.

Happy holidays and may the challenges of 2009 help you expand your horizons.

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