Agebuzz: An Interview with its Founder
Starting out, Connie Zuckerman created a new job category for herself--legal and bioethics consultant. Now, post-retirement, she is using the same iconoclastic approach to create an amazingly useful newsletter and website, agebuzz, to give us the information we need to know as we get older.
How did you end up in law school? You had a strong interest in medicine.
I was interested in medicine, but not very good at science. That, of course, posed a problem for medical school--so I decided on law school. During my first semester someone handed me a flyer about an interdisciplinary conference on end-of-life issues. That piqued my interest, so I went. I fell in love.
I asked one of the presenters--Professor George Annas of BU Law School--if anyone in New York, where I lived, focused on these kind of issues. He identified a “lady lawyer in the Bronx” who ran a bioethics consultation service at Montefiore Hospital. Even without Google, I found her (Nancy Neveloff Dubler), and ended up going to work for her.
What exactly did you do?
I became part of the Law and Ethics Consultation service. The work was largely centered around geriatric patients, so I did rounds with the geriatric teams, providing legal and bioethics advice about things like decision-making capacity for patients and end-of-life treatment options. I also participated in a lot of grant-supported research projects, and did a lot of academic research, publishing journal articles and co-authoring books and chapters about geriatric patient care issues. A
At the same time, I was living these issues as the primary caregiver for two aging grandparents.
Why did you then leave Montefiore to go to SUNY?
A couple of reasons. Mine was a new and small field, and I had to figure out next moves and opportunities for myself, especially since changing cities wasn’t really an option, given my husband’s work and my two young kids. I was offered a position that sounded really exciting in a new Division of Humanities in Medicine at SUNY Downstate.
I loved the job, which was even more academic than the one at Montefiore. I did clinical, in-the-trenches consulting work at Downstate and Kings County Hospitals, and I also got to travel to other hospitals, and to teach, including a course in bioethics in the Graduate Health Advocacy program at Sarah Lawrence College. The students were very engaged, and there were lots of older folks in my classes who were going back to school to get advanced degrees, often after a challenging health scare in their own lives.
I left Downstate five years later when another opportunity came along, at the United Hospital Fund. I was hired to oversee a new program to fund palliative care programs in hospitals. It was fascinating, as we were really on the cusp of something new. But after several years I found I was itchy to get back to clinical work, so I went to Beth Israel Hospital, again to do ethics consultation in a clinical setting.
Then things changed. I ended up unhappy at Beth Israel, and at the same time my daughter, just entering middle school, was facing some challenges. So I stopped working full time.
Was there a balance between your work and your family life?
Not really, never had a real balance. Always teetering between the two, grateful that when I was spending time on one side the other side wasn’t collapsing. Always juggling.
What was your proudest achievement?
In my work, having an impact on my field, primarily through my writing. I gained recognition for some original work I had done on ethical and legal issues, mostly involving end-of-life care. The issues were important and consequential. I had a voice. That made me proud.
How do you think having a profession affected your son and daughter?
My son is extremely comfortable with smart women who work. My daughter is a working mother, and I am in total awe of her, how calm she is, how well she balances, her confidence. I like to think there is something she learned from me but she seems much better at the juggle.
You worked with men and women. Any mentors?
There were some, especially women, who were helpful. Many had a regard for the pressures of family life, though some thought you should sacrifice like they did. There were also a lot of confident, sometimes arrogant men around, and it was hard for a small blond woman like me to be taken seriously. I was often intimidated. Looking back I realize I was not as confident as I should have been. I was often frustrated when a more senior colleague would speak up and get credit for something that I had been thinking. I wish I had opened my mouth more.
Did you give up your profession entirely to take care of your kids?
No, I continued to lecture and consult on legal and ethical issues, including for the March of Dimes. I took some classes. And then a few years ago, with my children grown and out of the house, I started to get itchy again. I wasn’t interested in working for someone else. I wanted to work for myself.
I started thinking about all the health information out there that even smart people have trouble accessing. I am a voracious reader. I read everything, including professional journals and off-the-beaten path stuff. I have always been the person that friends and family come to when they need to figure out a health problem, especially one involving an older relative. They know If I don’t have the answer I can get it. So I decided to try to build a place online to offer useful and timely information.
I started agebuzz, both a newsletter and website, for the latest information about health-related issues, and all sorts of other news for aging populations. I believe that the more you know, the better you will age. Our target audience is older women, for themselves and as caregivers, though there’s plenty that's helpful for men as well. We mainly focus on information that people would not necessarily pick up from their usual news sources. We read everything so you don’t have to--and we give you what we think are the most useful and interesting updates, based on years of personal and professional experience.
What are your biggest challenges as a new entrant into the on-line aging and news arena?
Well, it went a bit more slowly than I expected. We’re working hard to make it a great resource. We also need to figure out our revenue model. Our readers seem to like what we’re doing, and I am confident we’ll be successful. There’s a huge demographic aging into our target audience--hopefully we’ll be a valuable and sought-after resource along the journey!