Alumni Spotlight

Seattle’s Own Mama Doc

Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., Res. ’06

I believe parents search for and sincerely desire simple answers to the how-what-why-who of parenting, the essence of doing right for their children. Often it’s not a simple, isolated situation, or one as complicated as it may feel. And the abundance of online noise invokes fear in all of us when making decisions for our children. In 2009, I started writing the Seattle Mama Doc blog for Seattle Children’s Hospital. I’d finished my residency at Seattle Children’s in 2006 and was practicing at the Everett Clinic. A year into practicing, Jenny McCarthy announced on Oprah that she believed the MMR vaccine gave her son autism. The next day, I was in clinic counseling a family about a one-year check-up. The mom bit her lip when I mentioned MMR on the list of shots and told me she had seen Jenny on Oprah. That’s when I knew I had to start creating online content, and I began to think about where parents were getting health information. I really wanted this mom to understand the phenomenal safety record for MMR and the way it would protect her child.

I’d done a master’s degree in bioethics, and I have always been interested in how the media discusses health and prevention — and how these discussions affect parents’ decisions. When I approached Children’s with the idea for a blog, there were not many physicians writing content online. As one of the first physicians to take these risks and really believe in the opportunity of new media for health promotion, I was able to garner national attention. I knew people wanted information that was reputable, and it was becoming clear that narrative, combined with evidence to back up medical science, is powerful and productive. The blog receives 30,000 to 40,000 views a month. And since I began Seattle Mama Doc, we’ve had well over 1 million unique views. Nearly 20,000 people follow Seattle Mama Doc on Twitter, and Time magazine named Seattle Mama Doc one of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013. I would never have been able to reach that many people — and potentially change their understanding of health and illness, prevention and opportunity — if I’d limited my work to the clinic. Now, as the executive director of digital health at Seattle Children’s, my role is to identify digital solutions to pressing issues in healthcare and think about new strategies and technologies that physicians can use in their regular work.

Swanson’s first book, Mama Doc Medicine, is being published by The American Academy of Pediatrics.