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Some thoughts for young surgeons

What is Narrative Medicine?

In 2019, I went back to graduate school for the third time since attaining my MD degree. I began work on a graduate certificate in Narrative Healthcare, and have continued in the Lenoir-Rhyne MFA program. Narrative Healthcare is a more clinician-inclusive name for Narrative Medicine.


So, as many people have asked me, "What is Narrative Medicine?"


I think of Narrative Medicine in two ways. First of all, if you think of the Medical Humanities as complementary to Scientific Medicine, then Narrative Medicine is that subset of the Medical Humanities that deals with the written word. Our medical school has a Humanities Distinction Track, and over the years most students who complete that track have produced written-word creations. A few have done visual arts or interpretive dance. I suspect that, as physicians, we have spent so much time reading and writing that this particular mode of expression comes most naturally to us.


Narrative Medicine is more than that, however. It encompasses a variety of techniques that can be used to build empathy, combat burnout, and build listening skills. It is being widely disseminated through US medical schools. I am particularly interested in extending this into the residency environment. For this, I felt that I needed additional training. 


There are two graduate level programs in Narrative Medicine. One is based at Columbia, in New York City, where the discipline originated. The second one is in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Thomas Wolfe Center for Creative Writing at Lenoir-Rhyne University. I enrolled in the Lenoir-Rhyne program because it uses distance learning, and it fits my schedule. Classes are mostly in the evenings, and are held via Zoom. It's an immersive environment, with a small group of students and a charismatic knowledgable instructor.


I just completed my first semester and am into the summer term. In addition to providing the formal knowledge base that I need in Narrative Medicine, the coursework is also improving my creative writing. Currently, I'm working on a third short story collection. After that, probably a memoir of my personal experience with breast cancer. 


It's invigorating to be back in school! If you are considering devoting your career to surgical education, in addition to obtaining a degree in medical education you might want to consider a certificate-level program in Narrative Medicine such as the one at Lenoir-Rhyne. I'm here to tell you that it is both do-able and potentially highly valuable.

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I feel compelled to write about e-mail. At a recent surgical meeting I concluded a two-hour breakfast meeting with a more junior colleague with the words, “You need to start answering your e-mails!” It started me thinking about the topic, and I want to give you some thoughts about e-mail. For academic physicians, e-mail  Read More 
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Changing Jobs

In the course of my academic career, I made three moves. The first move was from New York University, where I did my residency, to Marshall University in Huntington WV, where I was appointed Assistant Professor. That one almost doesn’t count, because many people leave their residency site for their first job. The  Read More 
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Discussing Papers at National Meetings

Meeting and exchanging ideas with surgeons from other institutions – networking – is one of the major pleasures of academic medicine. Young surgeons sometimes find it hard to know how to get started. Committee activity (see previous post from 11/4/2014) is one sure-fire way. Another important activity is discussing papers at national meetings.

At most meetings, a  Read More 
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Preparing for Retirement

A recent discussion on one of the American College of Surgeons “communities” brought this topic to mind. I, myself, am in my last year of phased retirement and will be fully retired from clinical practice in less than a year. I thought I would pass some thoughts along to you.

IF YOU ARE A  Read More 
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That First Job

Factors to consider when you evaluate job offers right out of residency or fellowship include:
1. Clinical duties – how do these correspond to your areas of interest?
2. Academic opportunities – will you have protected time for research? What teaching duties will you have? How does the position meet your academic expectations?
3. Salary
4. Opportunities for your spouse  Read More 
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Surgical Organizations - A brief guide

As you advance in academic surgery, you will inevitably attend meetings of surgical organizations (such as the Fall Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, or a regional association such as the Central Surgical). Young surgeons sometimes wonder which organizations to join, how to become a member, and how to achieve visibility within  Read More 
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