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Entries in physician writing (4)


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


Confessions of a Surgeon

Paul Ruggieri MD, FACS - Confessions of a Surgeon

By Paul Ruggieri MD, FACS

Confessions of a Surgeon

It has been a little over a month since my book, "Confessions of a Surgeon:  The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated...Life Behind the OR Doors" was published and I have finally had time to think about the unique places it has taken me.   I cannot describe to you what it feels like to be at the end of a very long journey.  I started writing in my head ten years ago and knew someday the words would make it to paper.

I wanted to let the public into my operating room world with a very honest depiction of what I do and how I feel about what I do.  The book is a very blunt depiction of life, death, imperfection, emotional stresses, legal pressures, and human frailties.

I believe , because of our unique day (and night) jobs, everyone one of us physicians has an extraordinary story to tell, a story the public has a right to hear.  Everyone of us has a book buried deep inside our gut (being the general surgeon that I am) that just may need a little coaxing to bring out.

I was not a seasoned writer and had no understanding what it involved to write,publish, or promote a book.  All I knew was I had a story to tell and Julie Silver's Harvard Writing course was something I had to experience.  I had to experience it so much that I attended her course twice before writing my book, once in 2005 and again in 2010.  The first time got me warmed up to write (the timing was just not right).  However, the second time I attended the course, the stars were aligned and it ignited the fire in me.  Her course taught me very usable lessons on how to organize my story, discipline my writing, and instill confidence in my ability to complete what I had set out to accomplish.   Dr. Silver's course was also instrumental in giving me access to top New York City agents and professional writers.  The funny thing was I almost did not attend her course in 2010.  It was a last minute decision and probably the best one (outside of asking my wife to marry me) I have made in a very long time.

Writing my book was not easy and there were many a time when I just stared at my labtop, hoping the keyboards would just move by themselves.  To me, writing anything never came easy.  Remember, I am a general surgeon and if I cannot drain it, remove it, or rearrange it within a few hours I move on to the next one.  Most of us do not have the patience to write almost every night and weekends, one page at a time.  So, when I received my first galley copy in the mail from Penguin Publishing, I got drunk.  No, I am only kidding.  However, I did open up a bottle of single malt I had been saving and toasted everything in sight.  When I finally received my free 50 copies of the finished product,  then I finished the bottle off and got drunk.

The best advice I can give anyone who has a dream is to just go do it.  Do it with honesty and sincerity.  Do it because people need to know what unique lives we lead.  People will never know what is in our heart unless we show, not tell them.

About: Paul Ruggieri MD,FACS is a general surgeon in private practice, writer, stepfather, and a lover of single malt scotch. He writes at

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How Doctors Becomes Successful Writers

Suzanne Koven, MD, is an internist who came to the publishing course that I direct at Harvard Medical School ( a few years ago.  At that time her goals were to hone her writing skills and to learn more about publishing opportunities. 

A year later, I invited her back to speak to the attendees--one of the few "Success Stories" we have featured at the course who has not actually published a book (though that's about to change with her first book coming out soon). 

What I remember most about Suzanne's talk was her football analogy about "moving the chain."  As I watched the New England Patriots win the AFC playoff game today I was reminded of Suzanne's comments when my daughter asked me to explain how downs work.  Getting something published--anything at all--is a lot like a first down.  Touchdowns aren't elusive, but they are harder to achieve.  Super Bowl victories are even more difficult.  But, it all starts with moving the chain and getting close to that first down and then actually achieving the first down. 

Perhaps I was thinking about Suzanne today, because she is now a professional physician-writer who regularly contributes to The Boston Globe.  Her article in today's paper--the same day that the Patriots will advance to the Super Bowl--is titled "Doctors Who Write"

Suzanne has continuously moved the chain, scored too many first downs to count, won many important games and is now on her way to the Super Bowl!  Suzanne, go for it--we'll be watching you!!


Physician Writing & Publishing

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