doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Tag: journalism

Once a copy editor, always a copy editor

Having worked as a professional copy editor, grammatical mistakes make my hair stand on end. Especially when they’re printed on signs in public places. I’ve never actually done anything about this, other than to internally cringe. Until this past week.

Below are photos I encountered on a handwritten notice advising that a drinking fountain was out of order. I immediately noticed the error in the message. I started to step away, but felt drawn to return. To fix what was wrong. I pulled a pen out of my pocket and quickly did just that. My handiwork is subtle, matching in ink color so as not to draw too much attention to itself. My goal was not to shame the writer, but simply to correct the mistake.

I’ve included before and after photos to illustrate my good grammatical deed.

Before / After:

I left the drinking fountain with a smile on my face, feeling I had done the right thing. Feeling I had done a necessary thing.

Ah, saving the world, one grammatical error at a time …

An abstract challenge

I first saw my name in print in the fall of 1999. It was my first semester of college. I had taken a journalism class because my advisor told me not to. When I fell in love with reporting and writing, my journalism TA hooked me up at the school newspaper. My first article was a feature on cider making at the local apple orchard.

That was 17 years ago. It’s still a thrill to publish — to share my written work with the world. These days, most of that takes place via this blog or the online magazine where I write a monthly column. Most of my work consists of personal essays.

But last week, I submitted a different sort of writing — a research abstract based on my work in rural Uganda this past summer. If the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) accepts my abstract, I will present a poster at the organization’s national conference in San Antonio, Texas, in May 2017.

I do have another scientific publication — a secondary authorship on a paper from the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) lab where I worked for a semester while taking my medical school prerequisites. But this would be my first time as a first author. And this would be my first foray into the world of clinical research.

Acceptance here is by no means a guarantee. And my topic is somewhat outside the typical AGS fare, so I’m not holding my breath. Even if I don’t get accepted, going through the abstract writing process was still a wonderful experience. Distilling all that work into fewer than 2,650 characters was something else. That taxed even my editorial expertise.

All that said: *fingers crossed.* I’ll find out by February.

No regrets

I started college as a biology major, pre-med. I changed my major to journalism after taking an introductory writing class — a course that changed the course of my life. Over the last few years, since coming full circle and deciding to pursue medicine after all, I’ve been asked many times whether I wish I’d stuck with pre-med in college. After all, if I had, I’d be a full-fledged physician by now rather than a lowly medical student.


That’s my unwavering answer.

I changed my major back in 2000 in part because I fell in love with writing, and in part because I wasn’t committed to the idea of four years of medical school followed by another three or four of residency. And don’t forget the major debt — a scary prospect for a 19-year-old.

It took me some 15 years to make my way to medical school. But that was the right timeline for me, for me to fully realize that this is what I want in my life, for me to be ready. I wouldn’t change any of it because I wasn’t ready back then. And those 15 years brought all kinds of adventures of their own — all of which provide me with a rich set of life experiences to draw upon as I make my way in my new career. In unexpected moments, those events, and the lessons I learned from them, brighten the path in front of me.

One of those moments occurred during our last unit, where we learned about rheumatology and the musculoskeletal system. Part of the curriculum involved learning various physical exam maneuvers to test for musculoskeletal problems. We had lectures, then brief, proctored practice sessions to learn how to test for rotator cuff tears, for example, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Some maneuvers were easier than others. And while they all made sense while I was sitting in the room surrounded by our orthopaedist-teachers, when I got home, the details of the trickier exams (especially for ACL and meniscus problems in the knee) had faded.

You never know when the past will come back to help you.

You never know when the past will come back to help you.

My past life in publishing, though, offered an answer. The year before I started medical school, I worked for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). AAOS is the medical society for orthopaedic surgeons, and also publishes orthopaedic books. When I left, I was graciously given a copy of Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care 5, a book on general musculoskeletal problems actually directed at non-surgeons — primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, residents, medical students, and others. Aside from hunderds of pages of expertly written text, the book includes more than 200 video demonstrations of exam maneuvers and procedures. So rather than turn to YouTube for  videos of unknown origin, I had a trustworthy source. And when I practiced the manuevers with my classmates, the videos were something I could share with them, too.

Sure, I could have bought the book. But I’m a broke medical student, and it’s really not in my budget right now. It’s part of the package of my past life, a past life that informs and enhances my current one. And while it might have taken me longer to get here, that time certainly wasn’t wasted.

Once a Reporter, Always a Reporter

pocket notebookFriends and colleagues from my former life as a journalist may recognize this notebook as the junior version of the spiral pads we used while employed at the Wednesday Journal, Inc. I discovered it while searching for a notebook that would fit in the pocket of my white coat. This fits the bill without running up the tab—$14.50 for a pack of 12 on What is a medical history but a specific type of interview? So what better type of notebook to use than one made for a reporter? Just seeing it brings back lots of memories too …