aamc.org does not support this web browser.

    “Real-World Reflections: WashU Nephrologist Has Risen to Prominence, Uncovering Society’s Biggest Health Issues,” by Kristina Sauerwein 

    Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
    The Robert G. Fenley Writing Awards: General Staff Writing 

    The profile, “Real-World Reflections: WashU Nephrologist Has Risen to Prominence, Uncovering Society’s Biggest Health Issues,” spotlights a boy raised in war-torn Lebanon, who immigrated to the United States and became one of the most visible researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The teenager, who taught himself data analysis on his beloved Commodore 64 computer, became one of today’s most prominent storytellers. Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a WashU clinical epidemiologist, has developed significant expertise leveraging the power of big data and advanced statistical methodologies to fill important knowledge gaps that may not be easily answered by other means of scientific inquiry. Using federal data, Al-Aly has linked air pollution to kidney disease; uncovered adverse health effects associated with heartburn medications; and revealed COVID-19’s insidious ability to cause people pain, debilitation, and death months to years after infection. Al-Aly is one of the media’s go-to experts on long COVID, and his research has been published and cited in major scientific journals. Additionally, his work on long COVID has validated patient experiences and is credited with helping to improve patient diagnosis and treatment. The profile connects Al-Aly’s childhood love of data with his current success. “Thinking deeply, my Commodore 64 represents my lifelong passion for solving scientific problems,” Al-Aly said. 
    What was the most impactful part of your entry? 
    From Kristina Sauerwein: The most impactful part of my entry is storytelling. Al-Aly is a scientific and media powerhouse whose expertise is in demand by the White House, the World Health Organization, local governments in the U.K. and Canada, and major news outlets. He frequently takes to task health systems, policymakers, and business leaders for their failure to address the long-term health and economic consequences of COVID-19. He is also thoughtful, compassionate, and humble; such qualities are rooted in his childhood: Al-Aly was a Lebanese boy who had to shelter from bombs and cope with his dad’s death from cancer. His love of data stems from the comfort he took solving problems on his Commodore 64. 

    Relying on narrative techniques while relating the personal with the professional experiences, this story resonated with readers. The profile received exceptionally high engagement on social media, generated significant media inquiries and reader comments, and led to a well-received podcast with the famed Eric Topol, MD. Interestingly, Al-Aly’s love for his Commodore 64 also sparked joy and nostalgia for many like-minded C64 enthusiasts. 
    What is one thing you learned from your entry/experience? 
    From Kristina Sauerwein: Science matters. I believe this. I’m sure you believe this. But in this surreal anti-science world, some people don’t believe science matters. Al-Aly’s research, however, seems to resonate even with people skeptical about science. Al-Aly and I have both received emails from people unsure about science but seeking information about the heartburn medication they’re taking or a symptom they believe is a result of long COVID. Personally, I’ve had people who are anti-vaxxers ask me about Al-Aly’s research and long COVID. For the most part, there’s no way to know how this story has influenced the behaviors of strangers. But one of the reasons we featured Al-Aly is that we hoped the story and research would inspire action, such as convincing anti-vaxxers to inoculate against the virus. On a broader scale, our hope is that politicians will fund COVID-19 mitigation strategies, such as improved vaccines. It’s also important to recognize that Al-Aly is a nephrologist, who treats patients at the WUSTL School of Medicine-affiliated Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System. He’s had experiences with patients who believe anti-vaccine, anti-science rhetoric. But they respect Al-Aly as a physician and researcher, and they listen to his expertise. Based on the reaction to the profile and Al-Aly’s research in general, I learned that stories can influence public perceptions and make science matter to even the skeptics. 
    Contact: Kristina Sauerwein