Writing and Medicine

Hey there! How is everyone doing? I’m doing quite well, can’t complain. Today’s topic is one I think about a lot. How is it that someone who is a medical student likes to write? I’ve been told a few times what an odd combination it is and at times when school has been too tough, I’ve considered dropping out to be a hungry writer. But I digress. Is this a new fad? Or have there always been people who believed in the beautiful union of medicine and writing? And what are the factors predisposing doctors and doctors-to-be to become quite good writers? Where does the connection between writing and medicine lie?

I’ve done a bit of research (meager research to be honest) and I discovered a few interesting points that I’d love to share with you guys. I also found some beautiful quotes from writer-physicians from centuries past which completely resonate with me. I was also amazed to find that there is an association for writer-physicians. The things a little research can do, huh?

1. Inspiration: While I always knew that I liked reading and writing, moving to another country and learning about all the wonderful things our bodies can do and all the things that could go wrong with them has definitely inspired me to write more. Even the diverse crop of people I’ve met so far have been so inspiring. Medical students are some of the most eccentric and complex fellows you’ll ever meet. There are a few simple, happy, people here but most of us are just well… a bit crazy. I’m not sure if that’s our way of dealing with the stress or that’s  just how we’re made. And then there’s just the experience of living in a country where English is not spoken as the official language- drama at it’s finest, I tell you. I’m actually worried that I wouldn’t be the writer that I am if I wasn’t a medical student.

2. Distraction: Life in medical school is hard, simply put. It’s not exaggerated when people tell you they haven’t slept in over twenty four hours and still cannot pass a test and it’s not because they’re dumb. But, it’s do-able. It’s possible to survive and even come out with a first class. This is where hobbies come in; a lot of students live by the work hard, play hard (and pray hard) policy. I’m an introvert who comes alive on social networks and with very close friends, so my definition of playing hard is writing a good article or story or reading a good book or trying a new food recipe OR watching a good show. I occasionally see some of my friends too. This works out well for my writing and I think a few other doctors may have felt the same.

3. Mad Men: Then, there are people who just have to write. It’s something they have to do. I know people who write every day but never show their work. It’s insane. They write so well, but a lot of it is personal and they like their privacy and aren’t into oversharing or honesty with the general public. Sometimes, I just need to write. To clear my head, to get feelings out or to pass time, but most times I just really like writing. There are also times when I’m too lazy to write all I’m thinking  but I really don’t want to say what I do at such times; you might think I’m crazy.

I found some quotes as I already said and I think you’ll love reading what these really cool writer-physicians had to say about writing and medicine. It made me realize that I can do both and not feel bad on days when I love one more than the other.

“Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one I spend the night with the other.Though it’s disorderly, it’s not so dull, and besides neither of them loses anything from my infidelity. If I did not have my medical work I doubt if I could have given my leisure and my spare thoughts to literature. There is no discipline in me.”

—Anton Chekhov, 1860–1904, Russian author of The Seagull

“When people ask me which I would rather give up, writing or medicine, it’s like being asked which eye I’d prefer to have poked out with a spoon: neither, and please use a fork.”
—Chris Adrian, 1970– , American author of The Children’s Hospital

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.”
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1809–1894, American author

I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
—William Carlos Williams, 1883–1963, American poet

“While medicine creates material for writing, perhaps even more important is that it also creates a psychological and emotional need to write.”
—Daniel Mason, contemporary American author of The Piano Turner

“But being able to talk to so many patients from so many walks of life gives a tremendous window into people’s lives. This is not to say I want to write about individual patients, but I think that after listening to the concerns of people who are so different from me, I can more realistically portray characters who are so different from me.”
—Daniel Mason, contemporary American author of The Piano Turner

“I really think I probably never would have written this book if I hadn’t been in medical school. In some ways, there was a thrill to writing, in the sense that I wasn’t supposed to be doing it.”
—Daniel Mason, contemporary American author of The Piano Turner

“Poetry, while it probably does not actually do nothing in general, does nothing (to my knowledge) for a spastic colon. Yet it seems to me that good doctors and good writers are both likely to be keen social observers, and that when you are doing good work in medicine or in fiction you are making obvious previously unseen connections.”
—Chris Adrian, 1970– , American author of The Children’s Hospital

“When they ask me, as of late they frequently do, how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing.”
—William Carlos Williams, 1883–1963, American poet

I LOVE the first quote! So apt! Okay, I’m off now.. to write some more and read some more. This is me ”turning up”. Till later xx

PS WHO KNEW KHALED HOSSEINI IS A DOCTOR? A MEDICAL DOCTOR??



  • You can definitely mix medicine with writing. I don’t know why people make it seem like it’s either science or art. I, however, can’t mess with science so I’m more of an art person. Chinua Achebe was meant to study medicine but he chose to study the arts and ended up being a great author.

    • I’m happy to hear you say that! I worry about it sometimes. Thank you 🙂

  • Insightful…..and then some.
    Great write up..Thanks to meagre research
    Lol

  • Every Khaled Hosseini fan should know he’s a doctor. Lol.
    This isn’t science.
    Disappointed Afoma. Disappointed.

    • Lool! I just started reading him a few days ago.. Had no idea. :p

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