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Publishing the Oxford Medical Handbooks: an interview with Elizabeth Reeve

Many medical students and trainee doctors are familiar with the “cheese and onion,” but not the person responsible for the series. We caught up with Oxford Medical Handbooks’ Senior Commissioning Editor, Elizabeth Reeve, to find out about her role in publishing Oxford’s market leading series.

How are you involved with Oxford Medical Handbooks?

I am the Senior Commissioning Editor for the Oxford Medical Handbooks series, so I’m ultimately responsible for the strategy, future direction, and success of the programme, in both print and digital formats. I determine which new titles / editions are educationally or medically important for our markets, and commission well-respected new authors, working with my team to ensure manuscripts are delivered on time. Editorial is really the core of publishing, so we are involved with all other functions of OUP, including Sales and Marketing, Production, Design, Rights, Stock Control, and so on. This is one of the reasons it’s such an interesting job.

Do you have a favourite part of your job?

I enjoy having the opportunity to work with so many different people, authors and colleagues, across the Press. I like commissioning Handbooks that receive positive reviews and sell well — it’s rewarding to play a part in furthering medical education, and to make a difference to patient care. More generally, my job always provides a challenge of one type or another, and there’s always something new to learn.

What about a least-favourite part?

Negotiating difficult contracts and too many emails!

Doctor stethoscope by Stethoscopes. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Have you ever heard any interesting stories related to the Handbooks series?

We often get comments and photos of readers with their OMH in far and away places. For the OH Clinical Medicine 25th birthday party, we asked readers to tell us why OHCM was important to them, and the response was overwhelming. We’re very aware of how much OHCM is loved from all the feedback over the years, but we were totally surprised and delighted when we received songs, music, paintings, even poetry about it!

People often comment on how something in OHCM, such as a drawing or a quotation, has stuck in their mind, and how at a later date they were able to diagnose a patient from their recollection. A recent example was the image of a ‘Lemon on sticks’ which helped a doctor to diagnose a patient with an endocrine disorder.

After spending so much time with the Handbooks, do you think you could perform a diagnosis?

Possibly…with a little help from the OH Clinical Diagnosis, that is.

Have the Handbooks changed in your time as editor?

Over the years a lot of work has gone into making the handbooks more distinctive and consistent across the series in terms of style, structure, formatting, layout, and design. We want readers to be confident that there is the same level of authoritative content and practicality across the Handbook series, in all specialty areas. Users know for instance that chapters can be quickly accessed from the back cover tabs, that emergencies are grouped together and highlighted for quick reference; that all content included is core. We listen to what medical professionals want and need from the OMHs, and then do what we need to.

What was the state of medical publishing when you began your career vs. now?

When I started in publishing, the process was far more straightforward. Authors delivered a manuscript, which went into production after a few standard checks. There has and will always be the problem of late manuscript delivery, and for good reason, with medical authors leading such busy lives. But now, we ask much more of everyone concerned, including authors, publishing staff, freelancers, and typesetters. There’s just so much more involved at every stage with the move to digital.

What are some of the other challenges in moving to an online environment?

Publishing is traditionally a print environment, so the move to digital has been a steep learning curve for publishers, and also for authors, who instead of writing a “book”, are writing “content” to be published in multiple formats. All stages of the publishing process take this shift into account, from commissioning a new product or edition, writing, securing permissions, to development and production. In this way, we ensure all content is suitable for multiple print and digital outputs.

Where do you think medical publishing is headed in the future?

Doctors need the most up-to-date clinical information, but they also want to be sure that that information is accurate. With so many sources and formats available, it can be difficult to know where to look and what to trust. I think publishers need to continue to adapt with developments and deliver what the market requires, whether that be print, eBook, app, or online. Different people have different ways of learning, and also different preferences for accessing information. Whilst many might prefer a handheld format for clinical information when on the ward, an eBook may be more suitable for background reading, or a print copy for revising. I don’t think there is any one model which fits all, so publishers need to continue to produce a variety of models to suit different users and uses.

And finally, have you picked up any good advice for Medical Students in your time as commissioning editor?

That studying medicine is never an easy option, but, during the tough times, think back to the reasons you chose to do it in the first place, re-read the new Hippocratic Oath in OHCM, and keep at it! It will be amazing in the end.

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