Have you ever tried to communicate science to an aggressive 23-year old man who just wants to go home and pretend it’s all not happening?
What about to a 35 year old mother of a baby and a toddler, all three of whom can’t stop crying?
Or a 16 year old exchange student, who is incredibly shy and speaks English as a second language?
Perhaps yelling through a door, to a confused, possibly drugged teenager who is shut in a room to protect the wellbeing of others in her vicinity?
Every night the hospital emergency rooms across Australia fill to the brim with worried, angry, over-stretched, poorly-slept parents and their children.
The children may be vomiting, bleeding, hurting, unconscious or even dying.
The nurses and doctors triage the children according to their needs and the resources currently available.
In just minutes, the professionals make snap assessments on the patients and their parents, and then deliver complex medical information tailored to their needs and demands. It requires the hospital staff to decide:
- How receptive are these people to being told what to do by an “expert’?
- What is the level of education – will they understand if I use terms like “abdomen” or “cardiovascular”?
- What do they value in this interaction – information? guidance? free drugs? …or just somebody to listen to their problems?
- Can I make assumptions based on my previous interactions with this family?
- How should I best communicate with these people – talking? brochures? handwritten diagrams? through an interpreter?
- What level of detail should I present – am I just trying to prove I’m the one in charge, or will this information be useful and applicable by the parents? Do they even care about the ‘why’?
Knowing and pitching information just right for audience is a continual challenge for those working in science communication. And emergency room personal do it damned well.