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The Power of Writing | Katherine Tucker, MD

Feb 2, 2022

Katherine Tucker, MD

This week I received a holiday card from one of my medical school mentors (a now retired hematologist oncologist). Enclosed in his note were copies of short pieces that several of my closest friends and I had written about humanism in medicine. As we are yet again amid a COVID surge pushing hospitals to maximum capacity and sidelining significant numbers of the healthcare workforce, I find it hard not to feel discouraged, tired, angry and somewhat resigned. Despite the challenges COVID has posed to my wellbeing the last two years, reading the words I’d written in medical school forced me to pause. I was reminded of what excited me about medicine and how privileged I am doing what I do.

Writing is a powerful wellness tool. You need look no further than the “self-help” aisle at any bookstore to see an abundance of evidence to this point. Research shows that expressive writing can have a positive effect on a number of health and emotional wellness outcomes.[1] In medicine, where each day may bring new challenges (heartbreaking patient interactions, trying conversations with hospital administrators, etc.), writing can give us the means to observe what has happened, the ability to record our perceptions, and ultimately the space to reflect.

Who has the time to add more things to the day’s “to do” list? Who has the energy to sit down to write after a long day in clinic, when new emails demand your attention and projects rely on your time to propel them forward? I don’t; however, just as we prioritize making time to exercise or spending time with our families, we can set aside time to write.

I’m not a big proponent of New Year’s resolutions, but I made one this year. Although I wrote frequently in medical school, as I advanced in my medical training, I let the excuse of having more commitments lead to little or no writing. This year I made a resolution to return to writing after my wellbeing had been challenged physically and emotionally.

For anyone who needs a little motivation to get writing, check out Writing Medicine, a reflective writing session for healthcare workers in the time of COVID (https://www.laurelbraitman.com/writingmedicine).

1. Lepore, S. J., Greenberg, M. A., Bruno, M., & Smyth, J. M. (2002). Expressive writing and health: Self-regulation of emotion-related experience, physiology, and behaviour. In S. J. Lepore & J. M. Smyth (Eds.), The writing cure: How expressive writing promotes health and emotional well-being (pp. 99–117). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Katherine Tucker, MD, is a gynecologic oncologist at the University of North Carolina Women’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, NC.

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