Writing about patients has many benefits, but it also comes with a bunch of ethical pitfalls, according to a doctor from Yale.
Anna Resiman, a Professor at Yale School of Medicine, says it’s easy to avoid including identifying details like name and age descriptions provided in a personal essay are “about as private as it gets: a conversation with a man just diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, an admission of an extramarital affair, a patient who asks for help in dying”.
Teaching a writing workshop for medical students each year Reisman tells of new doctors bursting with stories of the hospital, illness, tragedies and cures.
“We talk about how to craft their anecdotes into compelling narratives, to harness emotions into images, to describe a person vividly through detail and metaphor. It’s when a piece starts to shine as potentially publishable that things get tricky,” she writes in her article published in The Atlantic.
There’s value in real stories, and if doctors are careful and respectful, there are ways to write essays about patients, she says.
“But sometimes, the truth can emerge more clearly—and more kindly—through the prism of fiction.”