In case you haven’t heard, Malcolm Gladwell recently released his book, David and Goliath. I’m just about finished reading it.
Just as interesting as the book are its reviews. In a recent post from Slate, Gladwell himself responds to the criticism. He freely admits that his books should not be held as pinnacles of academic rigor, but should be considered “intellectual adventures stories.”
He further elaborates on the power of stories, accepting their weaknesses in exchange for their powerful strengths:
Stories necessarily involve ambiguity and contradiction. They do not always capture the full range of human experience. Their conclusions can seem simplified or idiosyncratic. But at the same time stories have extraordinary advantages. They can reach large numbers of people and move them and serve as the vehicle for powerful insights. The overwhelming majority of social scientists that I have encountered in my career appreciate this trade-off and respect writers like me for the efforts we have made to use storytelling to bring the amazing worlds of psychology and sociology to a broader audience.
We need more Malcolm Gladwells in medicine. We need more storytellers.
The one that probably comes closest to Gladwell’s popularity and writing style is his New Yorker colleague, Atul Gawande. But he’s just one individual. Imagine if more physicians could use the power of story to explain why, say, patients don’t necessarily need antibiotics for their cold. Or why getting that PSA test in an 80-year-old man isn’t necessarily a good idea.
Gladwell’s scientific theories may not always hold up to intense scrutiny, but as a communicator, it’s his message that resonates much more loudly with the public than those who criticize his work.
Doctors should learn from this. In order for their message to spread, they better learn how to tell a good story.
I would argue that one cannot be a good doctor without being able to communicate one’s thoughts, knowledge, opinions, and analyses in writing.
I write for many reasons. One of them is to reflect on my day, to debrief on the moments that my colleagues and seniors impart on me. Another reason I continue to write is to keep the passion of medicine alive.
It is no secret that most of us lose our ability to empathize in third year, a year where we are exposed to the real world of medicine for the first time. We are young and impressionable and bad habits can quickly form if one is not careful. Our passion for medicine, as it turns out, is a fragile and easily corruptible entity; I try not to lose sight of that.
I write for these two reasons and many more personal ones as well. Why do you write?
— Tobias Wolff (via petitchou)
cranquis: A fictional tale that has surely occurred in real life many many times for many many pre-med students. A bit of a long read, but worth it — for the story, and for the enjoyable writing style, too!
I can’t tell if this is fiction or truth. It drips too much truth, even if it is fiction. I am very, very angry for the author’s sake. And so, I would like to address the author, and any anyone whose shoes might resemble hers.
First, you write beautifully. Don’t stop. Writing is a skill, not everyone can do it or even do a mediocre job of it. Fucking be proud of yourself, girl!
Second, your Mother is wrong to behave that way to you. Her job is to support you through success and failure. Not to tear you down and compare you to your friends- that is so unnecessary and unkind. I would suggest politely telling her that you are hard on yourself as it is, you don’t need her criticism and disappointment magnifying things; if she doesn’t have any encouraging and loving words, she can keep them to herself. You’re an adult now (I myself forget sometimes), so you don’t have to put up with emotional bullying like that.
Trust me, my parents worst punishment in their arsenal of torments was to tell me they were disappointed in me. It used to destroy me to think I was disappointing them (then I did things like move in with my boyfriend, get tattoos, stop believing in their religion, and I resigned myself to being a constant disappointment on some level). When my mom told me on my 21st birthday how proud she was of me for supporting myself and trying so hard in school, I broke down and cried after hanging up the phone.
This is a message to all pre-meds, med students, doctors, whatever the fuck you are. You don’t need negative people in your life. It doesn’t matter who they are: professors, friends, roommates, siblings, parents. How shortsighted is that person? This path is really fucking hard and try as you might, you will probably fuck up somewhere. SO. WHAT. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a fucking deal! If you are struggling, they should lift you up, not add some more weight to your emotional load. That’s cruel and heartless, not loving, not acceptable. Don’t keep those people around any longer than necessary (ex: family you can’t get rid of, but you can minimize contact with them until they start being positive).
In one of my interviews we got way off track, and the doctor interviewing me told me a story about a friend of his in medical school who committed suicide because the pressure from his family was too much; he felt worthless and hopeless because that’s what they told him he was. Parents especially often don’t realize what a negative impact they words and attitudes can have on their children- disappointment and criticism are not the right ways to drive someone to succeed.
If someone is treating you this way, please please please stand up for yourself. You’re awesome! You want to be a doctor and help people! You deserve hugs and coffees and cookies and rainbows! All campuses have great counseling services for students. Talk to them, don’t let someone else’s negativity define you. Listen: your dreams, your path, and your life are yours and yours alone. Whatever you do, do it for yourself and be proud of those decisions. You are brave, you got this.
First off, I’m so happy and honored you all like this story (humble much?). I just want to clarify, for my mind’s sake, that my mom is awesome…
I, creator of The Medical Chronicles, wrote this story, and like every writer, I think even when we write fiction, there’s a bit of us in the story. That being said, I’m not Tina, although there is a bit of me in Tina. Many of us pre-meds are Tinas, which is why I tried to capture it in the story (especially those of us that come from family-oriented Asian cultures!).
But aspiringdoctors (by the way, if you’re not following her already, you should!), you wrote some great advice to other pre-meds out there, and I totally agree with it. This piece of fiction is just some humor, and in the words of Cranquis, it’s “lasix for the soul.” I’m hoping to continue a (pre)-med series of short stories, so stay tuned…
In the meantime, study hard but make sure to enjoy yourselves everyone! I hope you all have a very wonderful summer! And remember, the ask/submit box is always open for suggestions, comments, questions and more :)
— Chris Adrian, physician and author (via klbyrd)
As the list of physicians writing fiction today grows longer, one can’t help but wonder if it’s just a coincidence or if there is a strong connection between the two professions.
Science and writing are not exactly the North Pole and South Pole as some may believe. It may sound really weird at first, someone majoring in biology and English, but it’s totally normal! And oh so wonderful.
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