Physicians who write

Got an idea for a book? It’s possible to combine your medical experience with your creative side.

By By Marcia Travelstead | Career Move | Winter 2014

 

Looking to write? “Writing is a way to reach a lot of people. You are in control and have a greater capacity to protect the integrity of the message than in other media,” says David Katz, M.D., MPH, who has authored or co-authored 15 books and more than 1,000 articles.

NAME:  David L. Katz, M.D., MPH

WORK:  Founding Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center; Current Medical Director for The Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.

EDUCATION:  Dartmouth College (BA); Albert Einstein College of Medicine (M.D.); Yale University School of Public Health (MPH)
Katz practiced internal medicine for more than 15 years and worked as an emergency medicine physician early in his career.

Katz is also editor in chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, president-elect of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and founder and president of the nonprofit Turn the Tide Foundation.

He has published nearly 200 scientific articles and textbook chapters, innumerable blogs and columns and nearly 1,000 newspaper articles. He has authored and co-authored 15 books, including multiple editions of textbooks in both nutrition and preventative medicine.

His extensive media portfolio includes being an on-air contributor for ABC/Good Morning America, a writer for The New York Times syndicate and a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine. He’s also a blogger/medical review board member for The Huffington Post, a health contributor to U.S. News & World Report, one of the original 150 ‘thought leader’ influencer bloggers for LinkedIn; and a health writer for Everyday Health.

For more information about Katz, and his latest book, Disease Proof, visit davidkatzmd.com.

How did you get started writing?
I was invited by my residency director, who decided to do a book. For colleagues who want to get involved in writing and to establish a reputation, one tip I can offer is that when opportunity comes knocking, be sure to open the door.

It takes a tremendous amount of time to write a book. In fact, there was a stretch of time that I was on a three-book deadline simultaneously. There was a point where, for approximately three years, I had one day off a year—literally—because there was such a backlog of work. I would do my day job during the week, and that would leave my weekends for writing.

Another opportunity came along around 1996-97, when I was just starting my practice in internal medicine. The hospital that I was affiliated with thought we might grow the practice with a column in the New Haven Register. I wrote a weekly preventative medicine column. The column in the New Haven Register re-circulated in other Connecticut papers. For a number of years, it was farmed out to The New York Times syndicate. I did the column in the New Haven Register, and the next thing I knew, I had a monthly column in O, The Oprah Magazine for eight years.

What do you like best about being a physician author?
What I like best is making a difference in the world. I hope my epitaph will be that I made a difference. Writing is a way to reach a lot of people. You are in control and have a greater capacity to protect the integrity of the message than in other media, and the other media has certain inconveniences attached.

When I worked for Good Morning America, I had to get up at 4 a.m. to get into Times Square. For the most part, I can write in my pajamas and write when I want to write. With the increasing opportunities for online writing, I blog. I’m what LinkedIn calls an “influencer.”

It used to be that you’d write a blog or anything else and hope that people would find it or it would find them. I’ve got close to14,000 people following me on Twitter and about 93,000 on LinkedIn. If I write anything, I can tell them all. I can push a button and reach out to about 100,000 people. I like this medium because now we have a means to invite people to participate in the dialogue.

What’s challenging about being a writer?
You are never done. There’s never a complete escape. At any moment, if you are a writer, ideas pop into your head and you’ll feel obligated to try to capture them. In clinical care, as demanding as it can be, you’re either on or off. When you’re finished and you’re not on call, you’re done. If you’re a writer, there are always words. There’s no escape from words; they are always there. One can certainly relate to artists who went crazy. There is a certain poignant madness to it all.

What surprises you about being an author?
The field of writing, which you may think of as rudimentary, actually is a very special power. There is a widely respected, hugely influential power in writing. In some cases, it can influence life or death situations. That’s the happy surprise…the incredible impact. An unhappy surprise is that there is sort of a subculture in publishing that a lot of what prevails is predicated on what people think others want to read. It’s very hard to break through.

What advice would you give other physicians who want to write?
First of all, only write if you’ve got something to say. You shouldn’t write because you want to be a writer. You should write because words are percolating up in you and you’ve got to express them. Secondly, have somebody to say it to. Know who you are trying to reach. Third, what is the particular objective? There may be an expected action, something you want to change with your writing. The fourth would be consistency. If you really want this to be a significant part of your career, you have to make it part of your weekly routine. You cultivate an audience by consistently reaching out to them, becoming a voice they trust and turn to looking for guidance.

In terms of where to get started, there are all sorts of options to get published. You can try local newspapers or establish your own blog online. It used to be harder because the options were fewer. There are real advantages in cultivating social media to let people know about your writing.

 

NAME:  Joseph Shrand, M.D.

TITLE: Medical Director, CASTLE (Clean And Sober Teens Living Empowered), High Point Treatment Center, Mass.; Instructor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

RESIDENCY: The Institute of Living, University of Connecticut, Hartford Hospital

FELLOWSHIP:  Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital

Shrand has served as Medical Director of the Child and Adolescent outpatient program at McLean Hospital, has run several inpatient psychiatric units, and was, until recently, the Medical Director of the Adult Inpatient Psychiatric Unit for High Point Treatment Centers in Plymouth. He serves on various boards involved in national mental health issues and global fair-trade concerns.

He helped design the Independence Academy, the first sober high school on the South Shore of Massachusetts.

For more about his books, including Outsmarting Anger: 7 Strategies for Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion and Manage Your Stress: Overcoming Stress in the Modern World, visit drshrand.com.

What do you like best about being an author?
I really enjoy having to formulate an idea to make it readable. The book I’m writing now is synthesizing state-of-the-art neuroscience and psychiatric science so that anyone can read it.

I like working with writers, and it’s really an education for me to be an author. I’m responsible for the content and the writer is responsible for the process. I work with a fantastic writer, Leigh Devine, who helps me stay focused. We have a great rhythm and have put my first two books together. There’s something wonderful about being able to express one’s self in writing.

What’s the most challenging part about being an author?
When I’m looking at my words in print, I’m always thinking I could have done it better. I don’t think it’s about being a perfectionist; it’s about striving for clarity. I feel my responsibility regarding writing in this genre is to be crystal clear so the person who is reading it can understand what I’m saying and apply it to their lives right then. If I’m writing something narrative, like my stories, then I want to make sure I take my readers through a whole range of emotions.

Any surprises?
When I started writing at this level, I had my own writer, editor, publisher—then another editor, a publicist and a copy editor. I had no idea how many people were involved in this. I didn’t own the book anymore, and that was fearful. However, what’s incredible is that so many people are invested in what you have to say that it becomes their book, too. I think that’s cool!

What advice do you have for other physicians who want to write?
Write! What I would recommend is to go to writer’s conferences and meet people. Write down new ideas, and document them by text or email. Don’t undermine your own creative process, because it’s amazing! Physicians have something to say. We’re into this very interesting time of our professional development. People will be interested in what physicians have to say whether or not it’s about medicine.

By Marcia Travelstead

 

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