Houseofficers' reactions to media coverage about the sequencing of the human genome

Gail Geller, Ellen S. Tambor, Barbara A. Bernhardt, Joann Rodgers, Neil A. Holtzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


After the announcement that sequencing of the human genome was nearly complete, media coverage was extensive. In light of ample evidence that the media are a primary source of health and science information, even for health professionals, media portrayals are often inaccurate or misleading, and discoveries that emanate from sequencing the human genome are likely to influence future health care, it is important to assess physicians' interpretations of media coverage about the human genome announcement. This paper describes the reactions of a sample of new physicians in the United States to this announcement, as well as the content of the stories they read or heard. Semi-structured surveys were distributed to all incoming houseofficers during Orientation at one major academic medical center. Eighty-one percent of 190 houseofficers returned a survey; 123 completed surveys were analyzed. Fifty-four percent of respondents thought the media message was only positive and 21% thought it was negative or mixed. Participants who reported radio as their media source were less likely to recall positive messages (p<0.05). Sixty-five percent and 76%, respectively, had positive perceptions of the impact of the accomplishment on people and on the medical profession. Overall, 48% were enthusiastic and 52% were guarded about the accomplishment. Enthusiasm was related to being an adult primary care houseofficer (p=0.07) or to having heard about it on television or in the newspaper (p<0.05). Of the 36 stories analyzed, newspaper and television reports focused more on medical implications and radio reports focused more on ethical issues. The degree of enthusiasm about the accomplishment reflects the content of the media coverage, and, at least for adult primary care houseofficers, probably reflects the increasing relevance of genetic discoveries to medical practice. Since physicians obtain much of their health and science information from the media, they can play an instrumental role in helping their patients interpret media coverage of advances in genetics and their impact on health care. However, this will require that physicians develop an appreciation of the newsmaking process, and how subtle interactions between politics, the media and science influence the "framing" of media coverage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2211-2220
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2003


  • Ethical issues
  • Houseofficers
  • Human genome project
  • Mass media
  • Physician attitudes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Houseofficers' reactions to media coverage about the sequencing of the human genome'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this