Writer, independent scholar, educator, speaker and curmudgeon: for over 20 years Susan Baxter (or “Dr B” as her students call her) has focused on deconstructing the complex underpinnings of health, medicine and science. Whether it’s translating the language of risk – in which our health is increasingly presented – into normal language or explaining the history, economics, politics, metaphors and other influences that go into our understanding of the medical narrative, her work has consistently demystified the often confusing, sometimes conflicting, and increasingly authoritative advice we are given in health and medicine. In the (delightfully flattering) words of a student, she’s like a “quirky encyclopedia” who is “not only interesting but has a way of making one learn and look at things in a broader perspective.”
Although first and foremost a writer, over the last two years Susan Baxter has also been teaching as a sessional at the Faculty of Health Science at Simon Fraser University and at the Seniors Program in Liberal Studies. “One person can’t change the world but I’m hopeful that by helping individuals understand just how much our understanding of medical science is affected by other things, like society, culture, economics and politics, that I can help them approach the subject more critically,” she says.
Curiosity and the desire to better understand how things really work, and how they evolve into what we “know”, has always been the cornerstone of Susan’s work. She began her somewhat rocky career doing stand-up comedy; later she wrote some television scripts for CBC – then moved to print where she’s more or less stayed ever since. She gradually veered towards medical writing then embarked on her own research, heading back to do her doctorate.
Now an independent scholar and author (and blogger), in 2009 Susan invited Vancouver endocrinologist Jerilynn C. Prior, MD, on board for The Estrogen Errors; Why Progesterone is Better for Women’s Health (2009). The book continues to make a few waves.
Susan’s next project is an introductory/overview text outlining the various points she tends to stress in her classes, from the history and politics of health science to the foundations of what we think of as medical “truth”.
Susan Baxter’s background includes a BA in Psychology and brief stints as a substitute teacher, taxi driver and standup comic. Working at CBC’s TV Drama sparked her interest in writing and from there it was only a short jump towards a career in writing – initially creating comedy sketches and dramas for television (she is still a member of the Writer’s Guild of Canada) and, eventually, to her current work in print.
The day-to-day research of a working, professional writer takes her to all manner of strange places, and Susan recalls dragging herself out of bed at 4 a.m. on an icy morning to to clamber onto a Greenpeace dinghy; hanging out Molly’s Reach talking about literature with The Beachcomber’s “old Relic” (Robert Clothier) not to mention bouncing on a wooden bench at Jericho Beach on a Sunday morning belting out Sharon, Lois and Bram songs with four-year-olds. Ah, the glamorous life of a freelance writer.
While writing on medicine her interest was sparked in the complexities of medicine, through hundreds of interviews with nurses, doctors, patients, policy wonks and others – as well as attending far too many medical conferences and CME’s (Continuing Medical Education seminars for physicians). During that time she regularly wrote for magazines like Family Practice, Medical Post, You, Chatelaine, Health Watch, Psychology Today and others.
After writing a book on the immune system (Immune Power, still out there somewhere on Amazon) she began her doctoral research, (Medicine, Metaphors and Metaphysics), where a single, simple notion, restrictive formularies, was parsed through the interdisciplinary lens of clinical medicine, medical sociology/anthropology, health economics, bioethics, communications and history.