Kunmi Sobowale, MD, is a published op-ed writer, whose pieces have recently appeared online in Scientific American and STAT. In November, the third-year Yale Department of Psychiatry resident tried his hand at narrative writing when he participated in the immersive Yale Internal Medicine Residency Writers’ Workshop.
The program, in its 14th year, gathers a dozen residents from across the medical school for two days of group critique and constructive feedback on their stories and essays.
The workshop was established in 2003 “to create an opportunity for residents to enhance their powers of observation and to share these observations with their colleagues,” according to the program’s website. “Our aims were to provide an outlet for their creative energy among our housestaff, to increase empathy, and to help residents reflect on their experience through learning the craft of writing. We felt that this focus had the most potential to help our residents appreciate the richness of the patients’ stories and the power of those stories to transform the doctor-patient relationship.”
The workshop is led by Lisa Sanders, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, and Anna Reisman, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. Both doctors are published authors, their work having appeared in newspapers, magazines, and journals.
Sobowale said Sanders and Reisman created a supportive environment where workshop participants felt comfortable sharing their writing for critique. “Getting honest feedback is a gift in writing, and through the workshop process my piece greatly improved and I learned lessons I will incorporate moving forward,” he said.
His story, “Solitary Confinement,” chronicles his contact with a patient, Mr. L, a tuberculosis sufferer whose interaction with the medical staff was limited due to risk of infection.
Sobowale captured his experience with Mr. L in this passage from his work: “Each time I prepared to enter his room, I would refit my mask two or three times to protect myself. The mask concealed my expressions. He never knew if I was smiling at him or if I wore an expression of dread. We never breathed the same air, but I shuddered every time he coughed. Because Mr. L spoke only a few words of English, my physical exam was our main form of communication. I pushed on his abdomen, causing him to wince, then nodded to acknowledge his suffering. I would gesture, by lifting my hand to the mask, to ask if he was eating or point to my chest to ask if he was in pain, and so on. That was the extent of our interaction. Nevertheless, before I left the room, he always said one of (the) English phrases he knew, ‘Thank you.’ I did not know if his gratitude was for my medical intervention or for the few minutes a day when I broke his seclusion.”
The stories by Sobowale and his fellow doctor-writers underwent many rounds of revisions before being bound and published into a book called Capsules. The residents took turns reading their writing to colleagues, family, and friends at a gathering January 25.