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Entries in Harvard Writers (3)


Doctor, Should You Be Writing?

There was a time when a handful of doctors wrote books. Now, many doctors' books have graced the New York Times Bestseller list. And there are even more opportunities for doctors to write and reach an extraordinary number of people--through blogging, publishing online articles, or writing newsletters--to name a few.

Doctors decide to write for various reasons--from the desire to reach more people with the valuable health information they have to offer to supporting an entrepreneurial venture to the joy of tapping into their creativity. I've known a doctor who increased funding for his medical research, others who segued into a speaking or consulting career (actually, he did that, too!) and still others who saw the writing as more of a satisfying creative outlet.

As Harvard Medical School's CME publishing course is coming up in just over a month, it's the perfect time for a doctor to explore the itch--or dream--to write. The official title of the course is Achieving Healthcare Leadership and Outcomes through Writing and Publishing.

Here are a few takeaways and tips from past graduates of Harvard Medical School's CME writing and publishing course:

From Donna Hicks, PhD, author of Dignity: "Only write about something that you know. You cannot fake authenticity and authenticity is what sells."

Hicks' book Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict was published by Yale University Press and Hicks reports, "Publishing Dignity has changed my life. Becoming an author catapulted my credibility exponentially. Three years after publishing my book and I am in just as much demand as the first year. I love giving talks about a topic that I feel so passionate about. You can't shut me up!"

Martha Rhodes attended the Harvard course two years ago and her book 3,000 Pulses Later: A Memoir of Surviving Depression without Medication was featured in the New York Times, Psychology Today online and many other publications. The book's publication has led to paid speaking engagements where she has the opportunity to reach more people with her message. Her biggest takeaway:

"Understand who your audience is – visualize the exact, specific person you want to read your book and why you want them to read it. And the biggest takeaway? Just proceed!"

And Leslie Shapiro's attendance led to writing Understanding OCD: Skills to Control the Conscience and Outsmart Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is being published by Praeger Publishing. She suggests anyone considering writing a book to ask yourself, "If you don't write it, who will?"

You don't need to be contemplating a book to attend. You can find out more about writing articles, blogs and more at the course as well.

The course will be offered March 31 - April 2 at the Fairmont Copley Hotel in Boston, MA and includes sessions on understanding the publishing industry, narrative writing in healing, how to write a memoir, writing a book proposal, publishing choices, how to write compelling prose, using social media and more.

Click here for more information on Achieving Healthcare Leadership and Outcomes through Writing and Publishing.


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


Successful Physician Authors

How to go from taking a 3-day course to becoming a successful author.

As I prepare for the Harvard CME publishing course this year, I am reviewing "success stories" to present to the attendees. What the attendees will want to know is "how to go from taking a 3-day course to becoming a successful author". 

If you are wondering the same thing, consider this piece of advice that makes writing incredibly powerful: Show, Don't Tell.  What this means is that while it's helpful to have an explanation, sometimes the thing that helps the most is giving a specific example. 

In this post, I want to "Show" interested readers some of the success stories.  The best way to do this is to take you to the websites of the successful past course attendees.  There have been so many, that it's hard to choose which ones to highlight.  Nevertheless, here are a few examples of past course attendees who have gone on to do amazing things with their writing:

Of course, not everyone who comes to the Harvard publishing course is a medical doctor.  There are many others in healthcare who attend and go on to become successful authors.  Here are a couple of examples:

As you look at these websites, you'll be able to decipher a lot of information about who these writers are and what they've been able to accomplish.  The websites don't tell everything, but they offer terrific examples of how to become a successful physician author!

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