We have a wonderful guest today! Don Stewart, author of Past Medical History is here to give us insight into the writing of his book....
"A must-read for every pre-med and medical student."
Gosh, we've been hearing that a lot lately.
I wrote Past Medical History mainly as a diversion. As a working artist I found myself answering the same questions over and over: What made you decide to be an artist? Where does all the detail come from? Why do you spend so much time researching each piece?
All those questions seemed to boil down to one answer: I didn't like being a doctor.
“I took an art class in college, and it stuck (because I didn't like being a doctor).” “My surgical training taught me to stand in one place for hours and do meticulous work – a habit that carried over into my art (because I didn't like being a doctor).” “I was immersed in academic research at every stage of my education: research papers in high school & college; reading, discussing and defending journal articles; conducting scientific research projects of my own before discovering I didn't like being a doctor.”
But those sorts of answers only generated more questions – questions I had become adept at answering using stories from my past. As I began to write these stories down, it became clear that I had good reasons why I didn't like being a doctor. Lots of them.
There was a great deal about the process of medical education, and the practice of medicine in today’s world that didn't sit well with me at all, and those things revealed themselves in my stories. So I continued to write.
I want to emphasize that the book was not meant to be a critique of the medical education system. It is a collection of events and experiences, a chronicle of things that happened to a particular person in an interesting and, by most measures, a very enviable position. The fact that many of these circumstances were unpleasant for me was simply a part of the story, part of the explanation of an abrupt and unusual career change.
Soon after the book was released, however, we learned that those events and experiences were not unique to the author. They just weren’t often talked about.
It’s not surprising then, that one of the most common responses to Past Medical History has been the suggestion that we find a way to make the book available to medical students, to pre-meds, and even to pre-pre-meds – anyone who is working toward a career in the medical profession.
One college junior wrote: “When we, as premedical students, are shadowing physicians, we see what the ‘professional’ life is like, not the education that we spend most of our life trying to survive. In short, the best book I could have read before applying to medical school.”
One pediatric resident was even more to the point: “Don captured the essence of many of the problems in medicine that no one wants to talk about and those that have similar thoughts don’t want to admit… [He] puts to words the inner turmoil many of us have about a career in medicine. This book should be required reading for pre-meds or medical students before they face the reality of residency.”
I can't argue with his sentiment.
In response to this sort of feedback, we have arranged to give away more than a hundred free books to health professions students at every phase of the educational process. Hopefully this gesture will give students the forewarning they need to survive the unpleasantness and confusion that a medical education entails. Others may find the permission they need to move on to other, more satisfying occupational pursuits. Some may simply enjoy the stories.
Fortunately, and perhaps most important to me, the collection of stories that became Past Medical History not only explained why I stopped wanting to be a doctor, but also revealed why I chose my current profession:
“I took an art class in college, and it stuck because I’ve been an artist all along.”
About the Author:
Don Stewart has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Art, with honors, from Birmingham-Southern College, and an MD from the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He also served a year-long surgical internship at the Mayo Clinic, where he published some of his first composite drawings, and won awards for poetry and short fiction.
Dr. Stewart’s short stories have since been published in Pulse–voices from the heart of medicine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Placebo Journal, and The Journal of Irreproducible Results, where he is listed as honorary Art Editor. For four years he served as Contributing Editor to Informal Rounds, the newsletter of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.
For the past quarter century he has made his living as a self-styled Visual Humorist, hammering words and pictures together at the DS Art Studio Gallery in Birmingham: www.DSArt.com. You can also find him at www.PastMedicalHistoryBook.com.
His latest book is the autobiography, Past Medical History.
About the Book:
This series of stories draws a clear picture of a doctor who recognized the pitfalls of his chosen profession, discharged himself from the hospital, then took his life in a more creative, and far healthier direction.