Here’s where doctors and clinicians can publish their medical essays and creative writing

Last updated Jan 4, 2021 | Published on Jan 11, 2021

Not all writing by healthcare providers is scientific or technical. Creative writing holds an important place in medicine. Literary works by doctors and clinicians can – and should – be published. This article covers several types of publications that are fitting for medical narratives, essays, and other creative writing about medical practice and the profession. It also includes a list of publications to which clinicians can submit their work.

The many types of creative writing for healthcare providers

Perhaps you’ve had a particularly memorable patient encounter and decided to write down your experience in order to preserve it. Or maybe you’ve had a patient death or poor outcome and found that writing about it helps you sort through your emotions.

Working in medicine gives us a lot of material to write about.

It’s common for doctors, nurses, clinicians, and even healthcare administrators to have an interest in creative writing on the topics of medicine and patient care. A few types of such written works include:

  • Essays
  • Narratives
  • Short stories
  • Poetry

These written pieces can deal with any number of medical or healthcare-related issues. They can be written from the perspective of the clinician, the patient, a family member, or anyone else who touches the healthcare system and is impacted by the practice of medicine.

Why publish literary writing as a doctor?

An article in The Permanente Journal entitled What can we learn from narratives in medical education? points out the following:

narratives can be a real-time mirror of what happens on the front lines on a daily basis.

Literary writing stands apart from scientific writing in that it has a creative or artistic intent. Nonetheless, writing and publishing about our experiences as clinicians has a lot of potential benefits.

For the writer, creative writing can be healing and introspective. For the readers of a published piece – whether they are fellow doctors or providers, medical studies, or patients – creative writing can:

  • Motivate
  • Educate
  • Entertain

It can help us to practice our profession compassionately and empathetically. It can address the psychological and relational dimensions of a largely physical field. It can, ultimately, help us be more effective as healthcare providers.

So, you’ve written a creative piece on a medical topic

Regardless of the motive, format, length, how long it took you, how personal it is, and whether you consider yourself “a writer,” you should consider sharing it. One of the best ways to do this is by publishing it one of many outlets available for medical narratives and literary works.

Medical literary and medical humanities journal options

Literary journals focusing on medical topics are a great option for any healthcare professional wishing to publish a piece of creative writing. This type of journal is an especially fitting outlet if you have aspirations as a writer – either to publish more work, write a book, or get your name out there as an author.

Here are 10 of the most well-known medical literary journals.

The Examined Life Journal –  A journal started by group of physicians (who were also writers) wishing to explore the confluence of art and medicine. It is published by the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

The Healing Muse – An annual journal of literary and visual art published by SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics & Humanities.

Hektoen International – A journal published by the Hektoen Institute of Medicine that features original work relating medicine to the humanities.

Hospital Drive – The literary magazine of the UVA School of Medicine, including poems and essays on the themes of health, illness, and healing.

Intima – A journal of narrative medicine that includes contributions relating to the theory and practice of medicine. Their Crossroads Blog is another option for authors.

The Pharos – A quarterly journal published by the AOA since 1938. It includes scholarly essays covering an array of nontechnical medical subjects, including medical history, ethics, and medical-related literature.

Daedalus – The material published in this quarterly journal by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences goes far beyond medicine to include any issues of public importance, such as technology, international affairs, culture, and global security.

Pulse –  Members of the Department of Family and Social Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine started this publication, which welcomes submissions by “anyone who has a healthcare story to tell.”

The Pegasus Review –  This journal was started by physicians at Stanford Medical Center who formed a writers’ circle to share their work, which gradually expanded in scope and audience.

Bellevue Literary Review – This is a journal of humanity and the human condition, including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction on the themes of health, illness, and healing.

Scientific journals that include creative writing

A few scientific journals publish literary work amidst research study reports and technical articles. There’s a good chance you read articles from several of these journals and may have come across their creative writing features, such as JAMA’s A Piece of My Mind.

Publishing literary work in a scientific journal is competitive for a couple of reasons. First, the space dedicated to narrative essays in medical journals tends to be quite limited. Second, authors covet a spot in front of the eyes of the dedicated physician and health professional audiences that many of these journals boast.

This avenue is a definitely worth a try for certain types of writing. But don’t get down on yourself if your piece is rejected. There are plenty of other publications to get your writing into.

Here are 6 popular medical journals that set aside a bit of space for creative works.

JAMA –  A Piece of My Mind features personal vignettes taken from wide-ranging experiences in medicine, such as those that explore the dynamics of the physician-patient relationship. JAMA also publishes poems related to the medical experience.

NEJM –  Medicine and Society covers social aspects of medicine and health care, including medical sociology, anthropology, history, and ethics.

Health AffairsNarrative Matters features personal stories about experiences with the health care system and the people in it using the power of literary nonfiction to highlight an important public policy issue. 

Academic Medicine –  Medicine and the Arts is this journal’s longest-running feature and describes itself as “a monthly reminder of how looking at something from a different perspective or bringing a different point of view to a common issue can change thinking.”

Journal of General Internal Medicine –  This journal has several types of articles that they lump under “Healing Arts.” Personal narratives, essays, and short stories relating to medicine can be submitted to the Materia Medica series. A newer column called The Spark features stories of powerful patient experiences that have influenced non-clinical career work.

Annals of Internal MedicineOn Being a Doctor and On Being a Patient include short personal essays about the experiences of physicians and patients, respectively. Ad Libitum is an option for poets.

These are only a handful of examples from several of the more popular medical journals. If your writing is about a specific field of medicine, consider checking for other fitting journals, just as you would when deciding where to submit a scientific manuscript.

Quick word of caution: When submitting to any type of journal, read the submission requirements carefully! Not following them may mean desk rejection. If you’re going to get rejected, don’t let it be because you didn’t follow the directions.

Additional ways to publish your creative writing

Journals aren’t the only way to get your medical literary and narrative writing published. Other print and online publications are great options, as well.

Professional society publications

Check the publications for any professional organization that you’re a part of to see if they include narratives and essays. These can be medical specialty societies, state medical societies, or medical interest associations for which your membership includes access to a newsletter, magazine, or restricted-access website.

This is a great option for writing that may appeal to a targeted audience, such as physicians in a certain specialty or type of healthcare setting.

As with scientific journals, there may be a limited amount of space in these publications dedicated to essays and “softer” types of writing. On the other hand, acceptance is less competitive than for a peer reviewed journal in most cases.

Your personal website or blog

If you write a lot (or want to start writing a lot), having your own website has a multitude of benefits:

  • You have total control over what you publish, when you publish it, and how it looks
  • It can help you build a personal brand
  • No time is wasted with the journal submission process
  • You can go back and make edits whenever you wish

There are also drawbacks to publishing your writing on your own site:

  • You need to build up your own audience
  • There is no recognized journal name associated with your work, and it won’t get indexed
  • There is a bit of technical work involved

Starting your own blog takes some time, but is fairly straightforward. If you want to publish your own writing but don’t want to take the time to build a website from scratch, consider publishing on Linkedin or Medium and using social media to boost your writing.

Finally, posting as a guest on someone else’s website is another option. If you follow a blogger who tends to post material that is similar to the work you’d like to publish, it never hurts to ask if they accept contributions from guest writers.

Options for medical and health professions students

Medical students have all of the options above plus a few extras. A number of medical schools have medical literary journals specifically geared toward (and often produced by) students, such as Florida State’s HEAL and University of Oklahoma’s Blood and Thunder.

There are also essay competitions for medical and health sciences students. You can get your creative writing published and win a scholarship in one swoop. An example of this is the Hope Babette Thang Humanism in Healthcare Essay Contest.

Don’t let your medical narratives and literary work go unpublished

You don’t need to write a book to publish this type of work. Simple essays that are fiction or nonfiction, or stories or reflections, are “worth” being published just as much as full-length books or compilations. If you are proud of a piece that you’ve written, give some solid consideration to publishing it for other clinicians to read and benefit from.

As physicians and scientists, we tend to be focused on scientific manuscripts and technical publications. While these types of writing are hugely important to our profession, they miss the human side of medicine. Publishing literary work and medical narratives allows us to preserve stories, promote healing, and improve patient care.

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