Dr. Writer: the struggle to be two different people

I’ve wanted to be many things in my lifetime: a teacher, a grocery store cashier, a veterinarian, a biomedical engineer, a researcher, and a diplomat, were some of the memorable ones. The profession that encapsulates all these jobs, and the one I ended up choosing, was medicine.

I am grateful, on a daily basis, that other people let me into their lives and trust my advice. As a newly minted doctor, I’m still getting used to the idea that my diagnostic skills and prescriptions actually make people recover from illness and become healthier.

But as I settle into a busy training program, I’ve been wondering: where does writing fit into my life now that I have a career in medicine?

Creative writing, whether reflective, fiction, or essaying, is a way of life for me. I always need to be working on something. Part of my brain is always looking for ideas, experiences, and conversations to write about. And that makes me doubly grateful to have a career in medicine, because I meet all kinds of people every day, and learn new things from them that have influenced what I want to write about and how I write.

But writing demands dedicated time. Medicine demands dedicated time. I’m having trouble figuring out how to balance my time, and how much time to give to writing in the future? Will writing be part of my career–will I try to supplement my income with it? Will writing be something I do for fun?

This Poet & Writers article describes how doctoring and writing seem to be related. There is a long, esteemed tradition of doctor-writers: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Carlos Williams, Anton Chekhov, and more recently, Khaled Hosseini, Abraham Verghese, Chris Adrian, and Rivka Galchen and many others. They’re amazing. They’re fantastic. They’re really, really good.

What I’d really like to know is how one makes the transition from being an unknown and inexperienced writer–such as myself–to being really, really good, while continuing to be a good doctor.

Everyone seems to have found a different path. Some came to medical school with writing experience and Iowa Writers’ Workshop credentials. Some found writing during training or practice and never stopped. Some doctors work part-time and reserve a couple working days for writing. Some continue to perform surgery full-time and dedicate “spare time” to working on new books. Some don’t practice at all. Some Yale doctor-writer alumni describe how they have found fulfilling careers as writers, journalists, TV consultants, and yes, doctors, with their mixed backgrounds in writing and medicine.

What I really want is for Me of the Future to come tell me what I should be doing right now. I don’t want to lose either medicine or writing, but I’m scared that if I try to pursue both at the same time, I’ll end up failing at both.

Are you trying to balance writing with your day-time job? How is it working out, and what strategies have you used to be able to do both at the same time?


About the friendly intern

Ask a question: The Friendly Intern My personal blog: Pathos and Pathology
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