Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The closest observers of suffering

As the list of physicians writing fiction today grows longer, one can't help but wonder if it's just a coincidence or if there is a strong connection between the two professions. Canin, who stopped practicing as a doctor after his third book was published and is now on the faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, says everyone has an expressive urge, but it's particularly pronounced in those who pursue medicine. "It's like being a soldier. You've seen great and terrible things."

Of the ten new students in his workshop last fall, Canin notes, two have medical backgrounds (and he adds that more and more physicians are contacting him for advice about pursuing writing). To Ratner, one of Canin's students, who graduated from med school ten years ago but never practiced, the two professions have always seemed connected. For as long as he can remember, he wanted to do both. "They're both what are sometimes described as callings," he says. "They were both ways of meaningfully addressing myself to human experience and suffering."

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