Why doctors are eminently suited to writing fiction

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anton Chekov, and Somerset Maugham.
More recently – Khaled Hosseini, Atul Gawande, and Abraham Verghese.

History bears testimony to the fact that revered physicians have been great writers.
Mythology, too, tells of Apollo, Athene and others, who were gods of medicine and of poetry.

Is it a happy accident?
Decidedly NOT, say Tony Miksanek, Andrea Crawford, and David Hellerstein.
Physician writers themselves, they believe that the two abilities, writing fiction and practicing medicine, are inextricably linked.

Why doctors write

Having recently released my fifth book, ‘Make the World Go Away, I would like to think it’s no coincidence. Based on my experience as an ophthalmic surgeon, and having read the thoughts of other physician writers, here are my feelings on the matter:

  • In my hectic out-patient department, I don’t get even ten minutes per patient. In an over-crowded government hospital, ten minutes is a luxury. Doctors working under such constraints quickly master the art of writing (patient notes) in short, pithy, expressive sentences.
  • Every working day is filled with drama. I am buffeted by human emotions: pain, joy, relief, sorrow, grief, happiness; my own as much as that of my patients. It is not surprising then, that such emotions find their place on the blank pages of a potential literary piece.
  • The physician is at risk of getting sucked into the quicksand of illness and suffering. One way to deal with it is to write. Narrative medicine is offered in some medical humanity courses, as a therapy; as a means to process emotions and feelings.
  • Doctor-scientists imagine, invent and create; physicians observe, discover and improvise; surgeons explore, probe, delve. These are all qualities of good writers.
  • Research is oxygen, breathing new life into old theories, concepts, and therapies. Doctors learn the skills early, sometimes as medical students, but certainly as postgraduates. For writing too, research is mandatory. Even when fiction is written from imagination, to be believable it has to be grounded in reality; the reality comes through painstaking research.

I’m really not surprised then, at the growing numbers – have you read any Physician Writers? How do you like their work?

2 thoughts on “Why doctors are eminently suited to writing fiction

  1. Bryan Fagan

    You have so many stories to tell with the world you live in. I happy to see you are a writer. All of your patients carry a story of their own and someday you may be the one to tell it.

    Excellent blog. Thank you!!!

  2. Ravi Bedi

    Very interesting! I find it a bit strange that none of your stories, to the best of my knowledge, is based on your experience as a doctor. Generally speaking, writers do derive a lot from their own experiences. Your stories are probably inspired by your experiences in the fields other than your profession.

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