Healthcare Writing Samples by Stacey J. Miller

Sample 1

How Smart Is It to Take Smart Drugs?

 (From Dr. Lynn R. Webster's blog:

 The Myth of Brain Power

If you hear something often enough, you may start to believe it. Most of us have come to believe the common myth that we use only ten percent of our brains. The truth, according to Medical News Today, is that "fMRI scans show that even simple activities require almost all of the brain to be active."

 However, Hollywood still enjoys imagining what would happen if people could use more of their brain power. In the 2011 action-thriller "Limitless," a writer takes an experimental (and fictional) pill called NZT that allows him to use one hundred percent of his brain. He evolves into a superman and is targeted by assassins. 

Using Smart Drugs to Increase Brainpower

A 2014 movie, "Lucy" -- which had a female protagonist -- also suggests that taking a mind-enhancing drug can give someone superpowers. The movie is said to delve "deep into the concept of the untapped powers of the human brain."

The idea for both movies probably came from real life. People do use smart drugs, which are formally called pharmacological cognitive enhancement (PCE) substances, to increase their brainpower.

There is an upward trend of people -- mostly students and young professionals -- who are using brain boosters to increase their memory or improve their concentration. These would-be super humans sometimes ingest a sleep disorder medication called Modafinil or illegal stimulants such as cocaine to temporarily enhance their cognition.

Nootropics, which are nonprescription natural supplements and herbs such as ginseng that can easily be found in supermarkets or online, also may be used as study aids. Unfortunately, the government does not control these substances, and their side effects are unknown.

More commonly, though, people are using Adderall (which is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) or Ritalin (methylphenidate) to enhance their cognitive performance. These are prescription drugs that may be used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

They should be used only under medical supervision, because they can produce side effects such as stomach pain, increased blood pressure and heart rate, dizziness, insomnia, and headaches. In fact, some doctors consider medication to be a last resort in managing ADHD, because of the potential side effects and the long-term consequences they may have on brain development.

The Paradox of Smart Drugs

Also, ironically, smart drugs may not actually make people who use them any smarter. According to Time, a University of Pennsylvania study found, "Students who took Adderall didn’t actually perform better on tests of cognitive function — they only thought they did."

Previous research has found that smart drugs may enhance cognitive skills for some people and not others. Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist who blogs for Healthland, reports that "those who have the least ability in a particular area are likely to see the greatest drug-related improvement." The smartest people, according to Szalavitz, may actually perform more poorly after using stimulants.

Unfortunately, smart drugs can produce euphoria. That can lead to abuse. Most prescription smart drugs are controlled substances, but some people without ADHD are taking them illegally. When the medication is crushed and then snorted or injected, it can produce a high that is similar to cocaine.

Taking a dangerous drug to enhance cognition probably is not such a smart move. Instead, to enhance test scores or job performance, try taking a nap, eating right, and getting enough exercise.

Sample 2

The Truth About Root Canals

Meta: You may associate the phrase "root canal" with intolerable suffering. Ask yourself, though, which is likely to hurt you more: intractable tooth pain, or having a root canal.

What Is a Root Canal?

A root canal, which means removing an infected nerve, is a generally accepted way to relieve serious tooth pain. Since the tooth's nerve serves no vital function, you can eliminate it with impunity in the event of severe tooth decay, injury, or infection.

Most of the time, root canals are relatively safe and effective. There are few risks associated with having the procedure, while there are many potential drawbacks to avoiding it.

So how do you know whether you should take the step of having a root canal? If you're experiencing intolerable pain while you eat or otherwise put pressure on your tooth; feeling extreme sensitivity to hot or cold; seeing a protrusion or swelling /near the source of your pain; or finding that your tooth is darkening, it may be time to heed your dentist's advice and take action.

Stoicism is Vastly Overrated

Perhaps you believe that only weak, ineffectual people take their toothaches seriously. You, on the other hand, are tough enough to ignore your dentist's advice to see an endodontist.

However, you may be mistaken. Your ability to ignore pain doesn't necessarily mean that you are brave or heroic. Rather, it may be an indication that you are simply foolhardy enough to risk sacrificing your tooth. Ignoring your dentist's advice is nothing to brag about. You have nothing to gain by continuing to suffer from a toothache and far more to lose than you may imagine.

Avoiding a root canal that your dentist recommends can result in:

       Prolonged and unnecessary pain

       Worsening infection

       Exacerbating the problem and exposing yourself to serious health risks

       Losing a tooth which, ironically, could cost you far more than having a root canal

Scientific studies have found that, over the long term, a root canal can help you retain a tooth that might otherwise have to be extracted due to decay or bacterial infection. An untreated toothache may lead you to a lifetime of needless regret.

It's Easier Than You Think

While many people believe that having a root canal is the most painful imaginable dental procedure, that simply isn't true. In fact, endodontists and general dentists perform more than 25 million root canals annually, and only 17% of their patients describe it as "their most painful dental experience." Fully 89% of people who have had a root canal are satisfied with the results. Enduring the pain of a toothache may be far worse than undergoing the procedure to relieve it.

What Will You Pay for a Root Canal

If you're sold on the idea of having a root canal, you may want to prepare yourself for the costs associated with it. Having a root canal nearly always means having a crown, too. In rare cases, patients who have a root canal require only a filling afterward.

A root canal procedure can range in cost from $300-$2,000, while a crown can cost an additional $500-$3,000. A dental filling, of course, would cost hundreds of dollars less than a crown.

The actual costs, however, depend on the type and placement of the tooth involved. Incisors, molars, canines, and premolars present different challenges, and whether they are upper or lower teeth also matters.

The complexity of the root canal may differ from one patient to the next, even if the type of tooth is the same. For example, having fused roots or more than one root can complicate the procedure.

Another factor in the expense is the type of crown or fillings that the endodontist or dentist uses. For example, a crown may be made of ceramic, porcelain-fused to metal, gold alloys, or base metal alloys. Their durability may differ, depending upon the material. In other words, you may get what you pay for.

While having a root canal and crown can be expensive, there are ways to minimize the costs. Insurance, the government, and dental schools may help defray the expenses.

The Root Canal Procedure

Here's what to expect when you undergo a root canal. The endodontist or dentist will numb your tooth, and then he or she will remove the tooth's root or pulp from the root canal (which is the space inside the root). Depending on the amount of pain you experienced before the root canal, you will likely experience little, or no, further pain during the surgery.

The next steps vary according to patients' specific situations. However, endodontists or dentists may:

       Take X-rays of the tooth

       Place medicine inside the root canal to get rid of bacteria

       Seal the root canal with a rubber-like material

       Place a temporary filling inside the tooth

If the infection has spread, the endodontist or dentist may prescribe antibiotics. You should take the medication and return to your general dentist, as directed, to remove the temporary filling. Your dentist will either create a permanent dental filling or, more likely, provide you with a crown.

What to Expect After the Surgery

In the meantime, here's what to expect after you have had your root canal. Once the local anesthesia wears off, you may experience mild pain from the surgery itself and as a result of opening your jaw for an extended time period. The endodontist or dentist may prescribe over-the-counter or prescription painkillers.

Get back in touch with endodontist or dentist if:

       The pain lasts more than a few days

       Your temporary filling falls out

       You experience swelling

       The original toothache returns

       You have an allergic reaction to the medicine

       Your bite feels uneven

Don't bite down on the treated tooth until the root canal, and the follow up procedures, have been completed. Scrupulously floss, brush, and clean your teeth.

Myths About the Risks of Root Canals

You may be reluctant to get a root canal because you have heard the procedure can cause health problems. This misinformation was based on a dubious study that was conducted nearly a century ago.

Specifically, the 1920s study by Dr. Weston Price said that root canals can cause cancer and other diseases. However, the study was conducted in nonsterile environments under poorly controlled conditions. Other researchers have not been able to duplicate its results.

There is no reliable data that connects the procedure to cancer or any other diseases. On the other hand, there is evidence that failing to undergo a root canal can endanger your health. Losing your teeth due to decay, injury, or infection can threaten your ability to socialize, eat, and enjoy the high quality of life that you deserve.

Root Canals Failures

Even though Dr. Price's study lacks credibility, it is true that no surgery is entirely free of risks. The question to ask yourself is whether the benefits of the survey outweigh any potential risks. In the case of root canals, you will find that they do.

Millions of people safely undergo root canals each year. Endodontists and general dentists conduct multiple procedures each day that are successful and produce lasting results.

That said, a high number of those surgeries result in failure. This may be due to persistence of bacteria, inadequate root filling, improper coronal seal, complications of instruments, and overlooking a canal during treatment.

Patients who experience failed root canals require further treatment. This can increase the cost of the procedure and prolong the healing time. Even in those cases, however, dentists still would consider extracting a tooth to be a last resort.

It Still Beats the Alternative

Root canals have their risks, and few people would ever describe having a root canal as enjoyable. However, root canals do not deserve their negative reputation.

The hyperbole surrounding the pain associated with root canals may cause you to panic. Fear of paying for a root canal, and failure to understand that there may be ways to mitigate its costs, can persuade you to worry far too much for your own good.

Having a root canal certainly becomes an easier choice when you look at the facts. People may show far more enthusiasm for undergoing a root canal when they realize that the only other reasonable treatment option for unremitting pain is a tooth extraction. Pulling a tooth can be far more dangerous than a root canal, because it increases the risk of allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream.  Since there is no perfect replacement for a tooth, we should all do whatever is required to keep our natural teeth for the duration of our lifetimes.

The Perks of Better Dental Health

Perhaps taking care of your teeth doesn't strike you as a priority. Your toothache may not strike you as a big deal. However, you must take attend to your dental problems to maximize your chances of maintaining your overall physical health.

Bacteria from an oral infection can metastisize. That can cause health problems that go far beyond your teeth. Ignoring an infection that begins in your mouth eventually can lead to cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, or even diabetes. Having a root canal can be a wise investment in your health and comfort, and it can provide you with many reasons to keep on smiling.

Sample 3

Kale: Coming Soon to Your Breakfast Table

You're sold on the benefits of eating kale. However, your children may not share your excitement about trying something new. How can you convince them to eat kale instead of sugary breakfast cereals? Here are three strategies to consider.


Turn It Into a Game

A fictional child expert taught us that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. You can turn Mary Poppins' advice into an opportunity to incorporate kale into your child's breakfast palette. At the same time, you can make beautiful music together.

Sing your child a song about kale. Choose a song, such as "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," with which your child is familiar. Alter the words to teach your child about kale's benefits. For example, you might sing, "And on that farm the elephants remembered everything -- all because of kale!" Once you get your child singing with you about benefits of kale, you'd better prepare to start making a healthful breakfast that includes kale. Your child will insist upon it!

Ask Your Child to Be Your Sous Chef

Children may be more excited about trying foods they help to create. Enlist your child's help in the kitchen as you prepare a kale breakfast together.

You can entice your child to join in the kitchen by asking your child to dress up for the role. Your child's sous chef costume can be silly (a Halloween mask, a soccer uniform, or a witch's hat an easily meet the just-for-fun dress code) or serious (perhaps you have a small hat, plastic gloves, and an apron your child can wear).

Choose a kid-friendly kale recipe, such as Cheesy Baked Kale Bites, that you suspect your child would enjoy. Line up the ingredients. Let your child help with age-appropriate tasks, such as mixing the dough, rolling it into balls, and placing the bites onto a cookie sheet. Your child won't be able to resist eating a treat he or she helped to create!

Tell an Irresistible Story

Has your child heard the story about the boy who ate kale and jumped all the way to the moon or the girl who could blend into the forest just like a chameleon? Entertain your child with some facts about kale's nearly magical qualities. It's okay to exaggerate the feats they will be able to accomplish once they agree to try incorporating kale into their diets. Kids who eat kale will find their steps are springier and their skin cells changing for the better ... so why not turn the healthful properties of kale into a tale they will love?


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