Why do physicians – and psychiatrists in particular – write?

All writers want recognition of some sort. No?

Recognition can take many forms, such as positive feedback, awards, or simply the knowledge that their work is being read and appreciated. However, it is important to note that motivation can vary among writers. Some may write primarily for personal satisfaction, to express themselves, or to contribute to a specific field or cause.

Some writers write to make a living. In fact, professional writing can be a lucrative career. This includes a broad range of fields, such as journalism, content creation, technical writing, and editing, among others. But as a friend reminded me, “Not even the greats like Eliot, Hardy, Pound, and Yeats ever got rich writing. Whatever they made, they blew on whiskey, women, and snuff” – and they were not alone.

In the context of health care, medical writers often work for pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, or medical publications. Their work can involve creating content for educational materials, research papers, regulatory documents, and promotional literature. The compensation they receive can vary greatly depending on their level of expertise, the complexity of the task, and the organization they work for.

Why do physicians write?

In my experience, the primary drive for most physician writers is to make a positive impact in their profession and for their patients – not necessarily for recognition, income, or to pen a bestseller. Writing allows physicians to reach a larger audience beyond their own practice and influence health care on a broader scale. Their primary motivation often lies in the advancement of health care and the betterment of patient outcomes.

Physicians possess vast amounts of knowledge and experience in their respective fields, and writing provides an avenue to share this information on a larger scale. For example, a doctor specializing in cardiovascular health might choose to write articles or books about preventing heart disease, or a business-minded physician might write to give advice on personal finance.

Additionally, writing serves as a tool for education. Physicians can use their writings to educate other health care professionals, students, and even the general public on a variety of health-related topics. For instance, a pediatrician might write a comprehensive guide on the importance of childhood vaccinations to help parents understand their significance.

Writing also contributes to the advancement of medicine. Physicians can write about their research findings or clinical experiences to help push the field forward. An oncologist, for example, might publish a paper about new treatment approaches for a specific type of cancer.

Advocacy is another motivation for physicians to write. They can use their writings to advocate for changes in health policy or to raise awareness about specific health issues. A physician working in a low-resource setting might write articles or op-eds to highlight the need for better health care infrastructure.

Many physicians also write as a form of reflective practice. They might write personal essays or narratives about their interactions with patients, bringing a more humanistic perspective to the medical profession. Their writing contributes to the broader field of narrative medicine and often reflects the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing.

Writing also serves as a means of patient education. Physicians can write blog posts on common health questions, create patient information leaflets, or even write books about managing specific health conditions.

Lastly, writing can contribute to a physician’s professional development. By publishing in peer-reviewed journals or reputable health websites, they can demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in their field.

Who do psychiatrists write?

Psychiatrists, like other physicians, are often motivated to write to share their knowledge, educate others, contribute to the progression of their field, and advocate for their patients. However, psychiatry’s unique focus on the complex world of mental health introduces certain specific influences on their motivations and the style of their narratives.

Psychiatry fundamentally revolves around understanding the human mind. Psychiatrists’ writings are likely to delve deeper into the exploration of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The act of writing, especially in a reflective or narrative style, allows psychiatrists to articulate their insights about human behavior, feelings, and relationships.

Their narratives might also contain more discussions of societal and cultural factors, as these aspects significantly influence mental health. Furthermore, the therapeutic relationship between the doctor and patient, a central component of psychiatric treatment, is often a prominent theme in psychiatrists’ narratives.

Because psychiatry often deals with intricate and deeply personal patient stories, writing provides psychiatrists with a platform to share these compelling narratives while preserving patient confidentiality. This not only helps educate others about mental health but also works towards reducing associated stigmas.

The emotionally intense nature of their work also makes writing a valuable tool for psychiatrists for reflection and self-care. It offers a therapeutic outlet and a means to process the emotional aspects of their profession.

Another significant motivator for psychiatrists to write is advocacy. The field of mental health has historically faced issues of underfunding and stigmatization. Writing becomes a powerful means for psychiatrists to raise awareness about mental health issues and advocate for policy changes.

Writing also serves as an effective way for psychiatrists to educate patients and their families. They can write about different mental health conditions, treatment options, and strategies for managing mental health. The demand for self-help and self-improvement books and articles is quite high. One study estimates the worth of the global self-improvement market size and share at $81.6 billion by 2032.

Regardless, the act of writing allows all physicians to educate, advocate, reflect, and contribute to the field of medicine with the ultimate aim of improving patient care and health outcomes.

Arthur Lazarus is a former Doximity Fellow, a member of the editorial board of the American Association for Physician Leadership, and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of several books on narrative medicine, including Medicine on Fire: A Narrative Travelogue and Narrative Medicine: Harnessing the Power of Storytelling through Essays.

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