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Recently, we wrapped up our annual writing workshop.As always, most of the residents are budding personal essayists and many wrote true-life narratives about their patients.
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 was no longer at that phone number, so I searched Facebook.
I found a photo of her and her new spouse, looking happy, and decided against forcing her to revisit that difficult time.
Patients rightly assume that their conversations with healthcare providers are confidential, and while there’s an implied consent that relevant information may be noted in the medical record, no one expects a rendition of a seemingly privileged conversation to appear in a magazine or newspaper article. Although a television broadcast of a patient’s death, without family consent, is particularly egregious, is publishing an essay about a patient’s personal life that different?
In some instances, say, in an op-ed, a description may be so brief or generalized that it’s unlikely to be linked to a real person.
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Residents, new doctors in their most intense years of training, are immersed in stories—stories of the hospital and illness, of tragedies and cures.
They come to the workshop bursting with those stories.