I am a Writers Fellow for Women in White Coats. How did I get here, and what is it like? Would you like to be in the next class of physician writers?
When I started feeling overwhelmed and burned out in my life and career, I sought out help in the form of podcasts, presentations, blogs, and people who could tell me how to fix what I was feeling. And, WOW, I consumed a lot of information! So much so that I began to think that instead of learning something and benefiting from it, I was taking it in like it was passive entertainment. It started to feel like a waste of my time if I did not do something because of it!
To value myself and apply what I was learning, I began making the changes that I wanted in my life. The next step was to talk about my learnings and possibly influence someone else who needed to hear what I had to say then. I had benefited from other people doing the same, and I wanted to pass it on.
There was a recurrent set of limiting beliefs in my head: “No one wants to hear what I have to say. I don’t have anything to teach. There are other people already saying all of this. What am I going to add?” I was hesitant.
It took courage, but I agreed to do a five-minute “Story Slam” at my American College of Physicians chapter meeting in early 2020. I explained how, although, initially, I was not too fond of change, I ultimately learned that deciding to change was healthy for me. Change supported my wellness, and being curious was a blessing for me. I nervously told my story and got feedback that I was brave to do so.
On the coattails of this positive experience, when an online blog asked for a proposal to write a guest article, I submitted this same 400-word story. It was accepted. To my surprise, someone did want to hear what I had to say
, and they paid me for my thoughts!
Due to this, I started to wonder if I told more stories and gave more advice, could I make an impact for others this way? At the same time, it would be cathartic and exciting. But that negative brain would not go away. It had been a long time since I put any effort into writing. I was good at it as a teenager, but that was the last time I had written regularly.
To test the waters, I submitted a perspective piece for the Women in Medicine Conference in 2020. That was accepted and published in a compendium of articles.
So, when Women in White Coats announced they were taking applications for a Writer’s Fellowship, I threw my hat into the ring. I would need to write one blog article a month for a year, and in turn, I would learn to edit other’s work and get feedback to improve my writing. At the same time, I started writing more for my own personal blog. This fellowship would keep me accountable to write regularly, and I would learn from it. That is a win-win in my books.
I was so excited to receive the news last fall that I was chosen for the inaugural class! There were five of us physician writers, and we all came into this with different experiences, interests, and medical backgrounds. For many of my blog articles, I have written about my perspectives and insights. As a physician who is also a coach, I like penning inspiring pieces introducing concepts to my reader. I have also stretched my comfort zone, written articles on current events like the vaccine rollout, my impression of the results of a recent JAMA article, and my thoughts about Doctors’ Day. My following pieces will be a series discussing ways to prevent overwhelm by exploring your priorities, setting boundaries, creating a margin in your schedule, and expanding your impression of mindfulness and focus. I hope you will check back in for those!
If you want to be a writer, where should you start?
Like the Nike slogan says, “Just Do It”! Start by writing to yourself in a journal or on your laptop. My mantra is “Show Up and Be Open.” When you are ready, put your ideas out there for others to read. You never know what might come of it. Look for and take advantage of opportunities that cross your path. Start your blog. Send in guest pieces on sites like Women in White Coats, KevinMD, and Doximity. Look for chances to submit articles for conferences, medical journals, medical society publications
, or your local newspaper. If you are further along in the creative process, apply to be a contributing author for the following Chronicles of Women in White Coats book. Volume 4 is in the works.
I have started to explore Narrative Medicine as well. Dr. Rita Charon describes narrative medicine in her 2001 JAMA article as a model for empathy, reflection, profession, and trust. This genre takes many forms: it can be poetry or prose. One can tell the patient’s story or reflect the physician’s experience. This style of writing can also explore the relationships between the physician-patient, physician-physician, and physician-society. In writing these stories, a physician can heal, process, validate, and explore thoughts and feelings that emerge in their professional interactions. Perhaps, this appeals to you as well.
Whatever your stage as a writer, know that you can use the process of expressing your thoughts on paper or the screen to heal yourself and others, educate, and entertain. “Show Up and Be Open” to the ideas that swirl in your brain that want to be documented and to the opportunities that come your way. You never know where that might lead!
Marion McCrary MD FACP is a practicing primary care general internist in North Carolina. She works with both physicians and non-physicians as a national-board certified integrative health and wellness coach. She is also a Women in White Coats Writers Fellow and Podcast Co-Host. Her website is http://www.marion-wellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook at marionmccrarywellness.