Eight of the 24 essays in the 2012 Best American Essays collection were about medicine. The topics included menopause as a vehicle to the true self, a writing class for children at a cancer hospital, the life of a rural druggist, why so many of Americans now take psychoactive drugs, a love story about caring for a spouse with dementia, how an aging doctor wants to die, and the benefits of gaining weight to treat depression. Two were written by physicians; all combine great writing and storytelling with novel insights and important information or thoughts about life, illness, caregiving, and death.
So whether you’re a health profession who writes or wants to write or a writer working on a piece that deals in some way with medicine, health, or illness, there is clearly interest in this sort of work, and possibly even growing interest. Indeed, trends over the last decade both within and outside medicine suggest widespread interest in medical writing that uses literary and journalistic techniques to explore topics related to health and health care in ways that are compelling, entertaining, and accessible to all.
A majority of medical journals now have essay, viewpoint, or perspectives sections, and such sections are frequently the most widely read portions of the journal (i.e. JAMA’s A Piece of My Mind ). Professional society annual meetings now feature workshops on narrative, advocacy writing, and social media, and many universities and medical schools now have courses in this sort of Public Medical Communication (PMC) writing, sponsor PMC-related annual conferences, and publish journals of essays, short stories, poetry, and art.
Below is a partial list, in alphabetical order, of medical journals that publish this sort of work. In subsequent blog posts, I’ll provide lists of medical humanities journals, blogs, lay press, and literary journals that also publish PMC in one form or another.
P.S. If you have additions, please post them as comments so we can keep growing the list!
Medicine and the Arts (MATA) This column runs on two facing pages; the left-hand page features an excerpt from literature, a poem, a photograph, etc. Literature excerpts generally run no more than 700 words and may include a very brief introduction as needed. On the right-hand page is a commentary of about 900 words that explores the relevance of the artwork to the teaching and/or practice of medicine.
Teaching and Learning Moments (TLM) This feature is published on a regular but space-available basis. Pieces vary in style and subject, but most are first-person, informal narratives written from the perspective of instructor, student, or patient. Typically, the author relates an experience or idea that provides a lesson applicable to the art or science of teaching, learning, or practicing medicine. Essays range from 250-600 words and must fit on one journal page.
In a Few Words: A nonfiction narrative essay which gives voice to the personal experiences and stories that define kidney disease. Submissions from physicians, allied health professionals, patients, or family members are welcome, and may concern the personal, ethical, or policy implications of any aspect of kidney disease in adults and children (acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, dialysis, transplantation, ethics, health policy, genetics, etc). Footnotes or references are discouraged. Essays may have up to 1,600 words, and should be submitted via e-mail to the editorial office (AJKD@tuftsmedicalcenter.org).
Perspective Essays representing opinions, presenting hypotheses, or considering controversial issues. Unstructured, 1500 word limit, with 20 or fewer bibliographic references; about 2 tables or figures.
On Being a Doctor Short essays on illuminating experiences in practice. 1500 word limit, fiction is welcome.
On Being a Patient Short essays by physicians on their own experiences of illness and accounts written by patients or their families. 1500 word limit, fiction is welcome.
Personal Views – a piece of highly readable and compelling comment that appeals to our international readership of practising doctors. These are original, opinion based essays of about 850 words, by a single author, with up to 12 references. The best Personal View pieces make a single strong, novel, and well argued point. They are also often topical, significant, insightful, and attention grabbing.
Fillers These should be …entertaining readers and making them think. We welcome articles of up to 600 words (we also like and need much shorter ones) on topics such as: A patient who changed my practice; A memorable patient; A paper that changed my practice; The person who has most influenced me; My most informative mistake; Any other story conveying instruction, pathos, or humour.
Humanities reviews on books and the visual and performing arts, creative writing, photography and features on the philosophy and history of medicine. Book and arts reviews are mainly solicited by the editor. We welcome unsolicited poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction and especially value contributions that convey personal and professional experiences with a sense of immediacy and realism. The writing should be candid, but patient confidentiality must be respected. In general, prose manuscripts should be limited to 1000 words and poems to no more than 75 lines.
Salon Readers are invited to submit for consideration 700 word Op-Ed style articles to Salon, our back page feature. Salons began as literary gatherings in the 17th century and later expanded to include music, philosophy and politics. CMAJ’s Salon introduces health as the overarching topic of discourse. As “the place for lateral thinking about health,” the department offers a mélange of novel, lively, thoughtful and sometimes quirky ideas designed to ignite sparks of insight and stimulate thought and online discussion using our e-letters function at cmaj.ca. Health, in this context, is interpreted in the widest context possible, with potential topics ranging from environmental concerns to an exposition on the stethoscope. Salon is not a soapbox; rather its aim is “to please and educate” (Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry).
Narrative Essays stories from clinical practice or from the educational setting and may be submitted by teachers, learners, patients, or professionals practicing in the primary care disciplines. These papers will generally be limited to 1000 words and should present a creative perspective both in their content and in their story-telling style. Narrative essays published in the journal will be legitimate scholarly articles and will peer-reviewed as carefully as original articles and brief reports. In general, these essays should illuminate the unique complexity and genuine personal dimensions of patient care and education in family medicine, primary care, or community medicine.
Narrative Matters For this section on the personal essay and health policy making, we seek narrative essays based on firsthand encounters with the health care system that explore the personal, ethical, and moral issues of delivering or receiving health care today. Suggested length is 2,500 words with a minimum of jargon, no abstract, no endnotes except for key references, and no tables or figures.
A Piece of My Mind Most essays are personal vignettes (eg, exploring the dynamics of the patient-physician relationship) taken from wide-ranging experiences in medicine; occasional pieces express views and opinions on the myriad issues that affect the profession. Omitting data or making data less specific to deidentify patients is acceptable, but changing any such data is not acceptable. Manuscripts are not published anonymously or pseudonymously. Length limit: 1800 words.
Viewpoint These papers may address virtually any important topic in medicine, public health, research, ethics, health policy, or health law and generally are not linked to a specific article. Viewpoints should be well focused, scholarly, and clearly presented and must have no more than 3 authors. Maximum length: up to 1200 words of text—or 1000 words of text with 1 small table or figure—and no more than 8 references. Viewpoints not meeting these guidelines will not be considered.
Poetry and Medicine Poems related to the medical experience, whether from the point of view of a health care worker or patient, or simply an observer, will be considered. Poems should be original, not previously published or under consideration elsewhere, and no longer than 50 lines. Authors may submit multiple poems to JAMA simultaneously.
Old Lives Talesstories, experiences, or incidences which have instructed, saddened or gladdened us as physicians and, above all, taught us something about the care of the older adult. When describing a particular patient, permission should be received in writing from him/her (mailed with the manuscript and diskette) or the personal details changed enough to conceal the person’s identity. 750 words.
Perspectives These articles should provide views and opinions on issues of importance to generalists. The Editors are particularly interested in publishing well-referenced, evidence-based perspectives on clinical, educational, or policy issues. Perspectives should be 2,000 words or less with an unstructured abstract of up to 200 words, and the minimum necessary number of tables and figures.
Healing Arts We seek two types of high quality creative writing related to medicine and health:
Materia Medicaconsists of well-crafted, highly readable and engaging personal narratives, essays or short stories of up to 1500 words and poetry of up to 100 lines. These pieces should focus on a given experience, person or event that informs or illuminates the practice or teaching of medicine. We are interested in narratives that “show” through story (scene, dialogue, etc.; i.e., “Mr. Hernandez’ skin color matched the white sheets. I leaned over to see if he was breathing and he opened his eyes. ‘I’m dying, doc,’ he said. ‘You don’t need to lie no more.’) rather than either narratives which tell the reader what happened and what to think (“this patient taught me so much about professionalism”) or case reports focused on medical details. If non-fiction, please either mask the subject’s identity or gain their permission prior to submission.
Text and Context consists of excerpts from literature (novels, short stories, poetry, plays or creative non-fiction) of 200-800 words followed by an accompanying essay of up to 1000 words discussing the significance of the work for clinical practice or medical education and, where appropriate, linking it to the clinical or medical education literature. Essays should include up to 3 learning objectives/discussion questions and may include up to 5 references. Please consult the January 2010 JGIM for an example of this type of submission. The author is responsible for submitting a detailed reference of the creative work and obtaining copyright permission for its use in JGIM.
Perspective articles cover a wide variety of topics of current interest in health care, medicine, and the intersection between medicine and society. We welcome submissions and proposals. Perspective articles are limited to 1000 to 1200 words and usually include one figure. There is a maximum of 5 references.
Reflections: Neurology and the Humanities submissions may be in the form of poetry or prose. There are no hard and fast rules about subject matter, but items that illustrate facets of the profession of neurology, particularly if written from a new perspective, are preferred. The quality of the writing style will be as important as the content. Submissions may be fiction or non-fiction. Maximum length 2000 words.