Aija Kažoka has devoted many years of her professional life to health journalism and at present she is the editor of the healthcare magazine “Medicus Bonus”. Last summer Aija graduated from RSU master’s study programme “Communication and Media Studies” and this fall commenced her postgraduate studies in the doctoral study programme “Communication Culture and Multimedia”.
How did you start your studies at Rīga Stradiņš University?
I did not have the faintest idea that I could take such a strong interest in academic life and research. Everything started with me being protractedly ill and following recovery I was overflowing with vitality. I was ready to move mountains and, knowing that at some stage I had demonstrated interest in studying, the Head of the Department of Communication Studies, Asoc. Prof. Anda Rožukalne approached me with the offer to take up postgraduate studies. It is not a secret that this was an extreme challenge for me – to launch studies after a longer break, considering that the technological and language requirements have grown immensely.
What was the topic for your master thesis and the main conclusions drawn?
During my studies I wrote a course paper aimed at proving that parliamentary deputies when speaking from the podium frequently engage in improper and contextually offensive use of medical terms: such as: “sick”, “disabled”. Prof. Sergejs Kruks – associate professor at the Department of Communication Studies suggested to expand this topic into a more profound research and became the supervisor of my master thesis: “Medical power language in parliamentary discourse. The role of medical practitioners – politicians in the formation of medical policy”. I would strongly advice the prospective students to choose the smartest, most brilliant supervisors for their scientific work – outstanding, hardworking personalities. Prof. S.Kruka rendered constructive support and his ability to put forward excellently targeted questions, set in motion the process of thought generation and give guidance was of intrinsic value. I strongly believe that Prof. S.Kruks will also supervise my doctoral thesis since, as to me, we have engaged in very productive cooperation.
The master thesis proved that in political discourse medical practitioners – politicians frequently tend to choose a form of speech which demonstrates their professional superiority and simultaneously highlights the importance of the acquired medical education, instead of engaging in rational, explanatory and informative communication. This trend has accounted for much resistance from other politicians. Medical practitioners – politicians want to play their professional card right, consider it to be a convincing argument in the political discourse, and are inclined at dressing up their political rhetoric with such insertions as: “I as a doctor.....” , “we doctors know...” , “this time I will speak as a doctor...”. It is interesting that for many medical practitioners up-keeping of occupational prestige is more important than arrival at a political solution. Both doctors – practitioners and also doctors – politicians choose to solve healthcare issues on the political arena from the professional perspective, without creating a dialogue with other social groups. The data obtained in the result of the research may be applied for developing a more successful healthcare policy communication strategy.
Why did you choose to proceed with your studies at doctoral level?
The first inducement to proceed with studies at doctoral level was the high evaluation of my master thesis - grade 10. After defence of the thesis, Assoc. Prof. Ilva Skulte approached me with the words: “Aija, you must understand that the university is not throwing around with such grades! I hope I will find your name among the applicants for doctoral studies.”
In light of the fact that I am the editor of the magazine for healthcare specialists “Medicus Bonus”, my choice to study in Riga Stradiņš University was purposeful, since my professional interests embrace facilitation of healthy living and diverse medical issues. I was sure that I will continue studies at this university where my master’s thesis in communication could be bound to medicine. My doctoral thesis will be devoted to healthcare and medical communication as well.
Will you proceed with your previous research work at doctoral level?
Definitely, a study on the communication of medical practitioners in political arena has a potential. Knowing how cumbersome it is to implement any changes in the healthcare system, I have commenced an in-depth study of political communication in healthcare. It will help find solutions for health management issues. I have decided to devote my doctoral studies to the understanding of the national traditions of liberalism and welfare in parliamentary discourse, the contradictions between rhetoric and reality, by illustrating the research with medical and health care discourse examples.
Are there any future health communication subjects which, as to you, desire special attention?
One of my initial intentions was to devote the master thesis to “esoterisation” of healthcare and medical topics in public area, dealing with the predominance of esoterical discourse on medical treatment and health maintenance over the classical offer. It is important to retain a balance between these aspects – as soon as one or the other area starts operating with the terminology and service range of the other, it may bring along unpleasant surprises.
You started your professional carrier as a producer! How did you arrive to health journalism?
I have graduated from Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, I have film director’s speciality and I have also completed a film actors’ studio. In the 90ies I started to work for the Latvian Medical Association and for the magazine “Safe and Sound”. What is the reason for choosing health journalism? I think that specialization and in-depth acquisition of a particular subject matter is a vital condition precedent in medicine, communication and other areas.
The interest about health and medicine comes from my father – he was an extraordinary personality, a professor at the Latvian University of Agriculture, knower of choral music, a good singer and an ecologically inclined vegetarian. He had a strong commitment, dedication, in-depth and personal understanding of ecology and healthy living and the cognition that health is directly associated with behaviour, lifestyle and thinking. His life formula was short and I try to stick to it: “Do not fill your stomach and head with junk and always keep your body clean!” I have understood that a healthy lifestyle will not prevent you from getting ill, but it allows not die before your time limit.
I believe in science and in medicine and I am grateful for the expertise and competence acquired at Riga Stradiņš University allowing me to be among the promoters and popularisers of knowledge obtained at the university and practical science. When commencing studies at the university, I had the feeling of Alice in Wonderland – I saw the doors opening which have been closed for me before. This is a fantastic feeling!