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Starting Your Writing Career As A Physician

A pitch for the Harvard Writers Course for Physicians...

If you are reading this, you are probably interested in writing. You may be formulating an idea or completing a manuscript. You may have published or are hoping to. You probably started out like me: eager to write, but not knowing what to do with a finished piece.

A few years ago I started writing a book. Once I thought it was finished, I sent it off to a few publishers. Luckily my narcissism was intact as I got one polite but crystal clear rejection after another. I thought writing was the tough part. In reality, I had no idea how to publish a book. So off I went to a course on how to publish your book offered by Harvard Medical School’s Department of Continuing Medical Education. There I met some remarkable people, listened to their stories, and shared my ideas.

Afterward, I received an email from Dr. Julie Silver, course director. To my astonishment, she liked my ideas but pointedly asked if I had ever worked with a writer. She explained that a “writer” guides the writing process while the “author” (me) provides the content. My education began.

While recently visiting, I saw the headline, “Doctor, you should write a book…or should you?” The blog outlined five questions requiring a “yes” if you should write a book, and then some of the cool things that could happen if you did. I thought, “Hey, I learned all of this at Julie’s course.” And then I read, “If you do decide to write a book, where do you start?

Taking Dr. Silver’s course, Achieving Healthcare Leadership & Outcomes through Writing & Publishing (March 14-16, 2103;, really changed my life. I have now published two books and had many amazing experiences along the way.

Writing can be fun, but getting your work read can be stressful. Too much stress and your cortisol levels go up, making it harder to think clearly. Too many rejections may anger you, making it even harder to think clearly! What can you do? Get more information. Knowledge is power, and a course provides knowledge about the writing process and the publishing industry. Plus you will meet really cool people who have similar goals: to get your ideas out to other people. Stress fades when you have others to share your ideas and experiences with.

This course steered me in the right direction. I learned about the formula for self-help books, publishers’ requirements for memoir and for science books, and creating a 30 second “elevator” pitch. I met publishers, editors, writers, and agents. I learned the impact of social media and how to build my “platform.” I learned to “show” not “tell.” In essence, I learned to become a better writer, to get my ideas across, and to build the infrastructure to get published.

But more, I had a chance to meet people who are remarkably creative, passionate about their work, and have a message of hope to deliver. I will be at the course in March. Hope to see you there.

About: Dr. Joseph Shrand is an Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the Medical Director of CASTLE, a new intervention unit for at-risk teens. Dr. Shrand is triple Board certified in adult psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. He is the author of two books, Manage your Stress: Overcoming Stress in the Modern World and Outsmarting Anger: 7 Strategies for Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion

Jan262013 - Crowdsourcing Medical Care For People In Need

Crowdsourcing is changing the way that new organizations can be funded. is an example in healthcare.

You may hear more about Watsi in the near future.

Right now their run completely by donations but that could well change. They've also become the first non-profit to make it into Y-Combinator, a premier technoloty accelerator in San Francisco.


Here's what Paul Graham of Y Combinator says:

After about 30 seconds of looking at the site, I realized I was looking at one of the more revolutionary things I'd seen the Internet used for. Technology can now put a face on need. The people who need help around the world are individuals, not news photos, and when you see them as individuals it's hard to ignore them.

I've seen what happens—at Airbnb for example—when the Internet's ability to connect people peer to peer enters a domain that had previously been dominated by narrow channels. Historians will probably identify this as one of the most powerful forces at work in our time. And Watsi is this force applied to a big lever.

Working at a higher resolution also enables Watsi to offer a much higher level of transparency. At Watsi, 100% of your donations directly fund medical treatments. is separately funded. They pay all their operational costs from their own funding, and none from your donations. They even eat the credit card processing fees. So when you donate to Watsi, you never have the uncomfortable feeling that lots of your money will be eaten up by administrative costs. Your money has impact you can measure.


ZDog MD calls Dr. Oz "One quack to rule them all". Awaits lawsuit.

ZDog MD rolls it out at Zappos.

From the article on Time:

Damania makes the videos with two pals from medical school; he’s also made some with his father, who is a retired primary care physician. And he doesn’t just take on public health messages. He recently targeted home-birthers, posting a Someecard captioned: “Sure, Sally, home is a perfectly safe, comfortable  and acceptable place to give birth. If your home is a hospital.” To critics who support home births, he says: “Sorry hippies! Just keeping it real.” He tackles probably the most revered social-media/pop culture doc of our time, Dr. Oz, dubbing him “one quack to fool them all.” And he pokes fun at pharma, with another Someecard that reads, “Today I’m going to find a drug rep and give them a pen with MY name on it.”

Far from alienating doctors who push out more conventional messages via social media, Damania has cultivated them as fans. Dr. Kevin Pho, an internist north of Boston who has collected more than 65,000 followers on Twitter, takes a more strait-laced approach to connecting with patients. But Pho, who describes himself as “social media’s leading physician voice,” acknowledges that some people respond better to off-the-cuff, even raunchy, perspectives...


The Course That Changed My Life (No, Really!)

A writing career, unlike a medical career, is not linear.

Like everyone, I get lots of junk e-mail. Much of mine consists of announcements of continuing medical education courses that have no relevance to my work as a primary care internist. “Updates in Pediatric Anesthesia?” No thanks. “Frontiers in Electroencephalography?” I don’t think so.

A few years ago, though, a CME flier for a new, three-day course on nonfiction writing ( for clinicians arrived in my in box. This one I did not delete. An English major in college and still an avid reader and writer, I’d resigned myself to keeping my work life and my writing life separate. Here was an invitation to combine them, even to use one to enhance the other. Though I went on to take the course again, and also to serve on its faculty, I learned things in those first three days that have stuck with me in what is now a fully developed second career as a professional writer:

A writing career, unlike a medical career, is not linear: If you’re a nurse, doctor, or therapist, chances are you went to professional school and never looked back. You worked hard, put one foot in front of the other, and moved ahead. You rarely faced rejection. Writers, even famous writers, get rejected all the time. The last success doesn’t always lead to the next. That’s not to say that writing careers don’t progress. I could, for example, draw you a line from my work on a synagogue newsletter to the Boston Globe and NPR--it just wouldn’t be a straight line.

Learn what a “platform” is, because you need one: “Platform” refers to all the things you’ve done that make you the best person to be writing a particular publication. Say you’re an OB-GYN who wants to write a book about contraception. It’s good that you’re an OB-GYN, but you have a better chance of selling your book if you’ve blogged, lectured, written editorials, and appeared on TV to discuss your subject. With each step, you become the “go to” person. Your name gets around. You get asked to write, lecture, and appear more. Platform leads to more platform.

Relationships matter: Writers, agents, and editors are people. Like all people, they prefer to work with other people whom they know, respect and can rely upon. This course is a great place to begin networking. Other writing courses and conferences (e.g. those listed in Poets and Writers or Grub Street) and even social media are also venues to meet the people who can nurture your career. Writing is solitary--publishing is not.

Write about what interests you most: You may be a health professional, but you have other interests, and you should incorporate these into your writing. For example, I love books and now review books (mostly health-related, some not). I’ve also liberally sprinkled my medical writing with memoir, jokes, and various current events that obsess me. Anything that you know something about, that you’re passionate about, can become part of your writing--and part of your platform.

Did I mention that you need a platform?

About: Suzanne Koven is a primary care internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Her monthly column, "In Practice," appears in the Boston Globe and her blog by the same name is featured on Dr. Koven's essays, reviews, and interviews have also been published by JAMA, NEJM, Psychology Today, The, the Boston Globe Books section, and several other sites and journals. Her first book, Say Hello To A Better Body: Weight Loss and Fitness for Women Over 50, was released in May, 2012. Read more at


Developing Your Portfolio Career

Building a more satisfying career as a physician.

Years ago at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting, I attended a session called something like “Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians.” While I don’t remember all the details of the presentation, what stuck with me was the extent of dissatisfaction of such an array of physicians: young and old, male and female, PCP and sub-specialist.

Now, some 20 years later, I think I have finally figured out a solution to the problem that nettled that audience years ago. Or at least I’ve found the solution for me. It’s called a “portfolio career”. What’s that, you say? Well, a portfolio career is one which combines multiple employment situations, exploits one’s various talents, culminating in a more satisfying work experience than would be possible just focusing on one area of expertise. Anton Chekov may have crafted the first portfolio career as a physician-writer back in the 19th century. He famously said, “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress.” Since his time, many doctors have carved side careers in publishing. Atul Gawande, surgeon and New York Times best-selling author says, “You can be a doctor and be most anything else.”

My portfolio career looks like this: I spend about a half to two thirds of my time as a physician. I am in private practice with one other pediatrician and moonlight in my local ER a few days a month. The rest of the time I write. Fiction, essays, book reviews, clinical reports. You name it, I’ll write it. I blog. I pen a syndicated health column for parents. I write conference coverage for national magazines. I’m called upon regularly to comment about medical developments in the news and how current events impact children.

You, too, can craft a portfolio career in writing. If you’ve always wanted to write, if you think you have a book in you, if you have years of experience and pearls of wisdom to share, I have a piece of advice for you. Come to the Harvard Writers’ Conference in March 2013. You will meet editors and agents, publishers and publicists, fellow doctors and dramatists, all interested in finding (or being!) the next Malcolm Gladwell.

You’ll also meet me! After the publication of my memoir Crash: A Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude (Globe Pequot Press Sept. 2012), Julie Silver invited me to present The Examined Life: Writing and the Art of Medicine at next year’s conference. I am thrilled. I’ll be talking about how I came to the conference in 2009 with a book proposal and an idea for a memoir and left with a real live contact in the publishing world and ultimately achieved representation and sold my memoir. I’ll also talk about real concrete steps you can take right now toward that portfolio career in writing.

So join me for the conference that helped shape my career as a physician-writer. March 14 th to 16th in Cambridge. You won't regret it!

About: Carolyn Roy-Bornstein's essays and short stories have appeared in many medical and literary journals and anthologies including JAMA, The Writer, Brain,Child, Literary Mama, Kaleidoscope, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, The Examined Life and several editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her flash fiction won third place in a Writer's Digest Short Short Story competition. She teaches writing workshops at venues from the University of Iowa to Grub Street Boston. Read more at


Doctor, You Should Write A Book...Or Should You?

Doctors Book WritingAs a physician, there are many good reasons to write a book that draws upon your expertise. 

For example, physician authors I've had the pleasure of working with have:

- Developed their keynote speaking opportunities

- Secured large increases in research funding for their projects

- Grown their practices (even when that may not have been their goal!)

- Shifted their one-on-one practice to one that is based on offering courses, teleseminars, information products or other models that have given them more freedom in how they use their time

- Landed on national TV and become sought after for their expertise--both by media and conference planners.

And much more.

But should you really write a book? Not necessarily. Only if you can answer "yes" to the following 5 questions:

  • You have a new perspective, fresh voice, something new to offer, proven system, compelling success stories or address an audience that has not been served well by other books.
  • You're committed to put time aside consistently to get the writing done.
  • You're interested in writing--even if you don't think you're a great writer, you don't dread it!
  • You're willing to learn something about the industry and get input from experts (more on this in a moment)
  • You're willing to actually promote the book--whether through a blog, online course, speaking or some other venue--and you'll need to start building your following before the book is even published--often before you even get a book deal.

If you do decide to write a book, where do you start? My top recommendation is the CME publishing course through Harvard Medical School. There, you'll get a sense of the specifics required--from how to write a book proposal to how to write for a trade audience  to how to develop your following. You'll also have the opportunity to meet top agents and publishers looking for books on health-related subjects. As faculty these folks are not just there to hear your pitch but also to help you formulate your book concept. You'll also meet course director, Julie Silver, MD, as well as professionals who can help you get the pieces that may be missing in your background--whether it's help with learning to write better and editing your manuscript, formulating the book concept or developing an online following.

If you're even thinking of writing a book, I highly recommend this immersion into the book writing and publishing world, March 14-16 in Boston, MA. See you there?


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