When doctors write

W.R.I.T.E. (Writing as Road of Internists to Engagement) is a project of the Newsletter Committee of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP).

It aims at developing a community of readers and writers among internists in the country. With the full support from the Board of Regents, the committee has decided to expand its audience not only among internal medicine consultants and trainees but to the rest of the medical communities in the country regardless of specialty or subspecialty.

The initial aim was to discover a pool of writers for The Filipino Internists (TFI), the official newsletter of PCP. But there was a realization, as supported by many studies, that when doctors become ardent students of the Humanities (the Literary Arts in particular) they become more conscious of the human condition beyond mere physiology and pathology. The doctor becomes more empathetic, compassionate even, and more humane.

The advocacy to include medical students in the project stems from our belief that when young, thus impressionable, minds are exposed early to the importance of caring enough for patients and their families in measures that dignify the sacredness of human life, appreciate diversities and commonalities among individuals and societies, and see the Medical profession as an exacting but noble one, they become good and caring doctors in the future.

Project WRITE is to our belief the first of its kind in the country, an attempt by a professional medical society to formalize the interconnectedness of medical writing, journalism and creative nonfiction in portraying the myriad faces of the profession. Of particular interest is the exploration of how do we translate our patient stories into words that inspire, heal, encourage, comfort, even uplift the human spirit in the face of illness, death and deprivation. How do we become not only competent doctors but more importantly decent human beings, which in the end is a measure of being happy and useful.

The first Project WRITE was held in Manila. The speakers were Dr. Louie Mar Goguangco (Medical Writing), Ms. Alma Anonas-Carpio (Journalism) and Dr. Ronald Baytan (Creative Nonfiction). In attendance was Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, PCP President, who believed this is a worthwhile project that needs to be disseminated throughout the country.

The idea is to bring the project to areas in the country where there are writing communities so that homegrown practitioners can be tapped, allowing the engagement to be locally relevant and culturally acceptable.

Each WRITE session usually has three speakers. The first lecturer discusses the standard medical writing that is taught in medical schools and training hospitals. This is in line with the PCP's thrust to encourage more internists to have their papers published.

The second speaker is a journalist with special interest and experience on health reporting. As most doctors in the audience during the first WRITE admitted to having been part of the editorial staff of their respective publications way back in high school, college and medical school, this lecture gives them a fresh perspective and an update on the many sides of journalism in the country in the age of fake news, magical thinking and social media. The Davao leg even becomes more significant as it will see the launching of the latest issue of Liyab, the official student publication of DMSF.

The third speaker will tackle Creative Nonfiction (CNF). It will be a brief introduction on how to write stories well in an engaging and interesting language using the many tools and techniques of Literature. As to why we need to appreciate our clinical encounters with patients and their families through the lens of Humanities, Oliver Sacks believed that "Language, that most human invention, can enable what, in principle, should not be possible. It can allow all of us, even the congenitally blind, to see with another person’s eyes.” Another favorite author Atul Gawande argues that awareness of the patient's personal history beyond the entries in the hospital charts and medical abstracts is an essential aspect of doctoring. In Being Mortal, he writes, "In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments – which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence … We have purposes larger than ourselves.”

For Project WRITE Davao, Mr. Yas D. Ocampo will speak on Health Reporting (Journalism). He is a writer and content editor of the Mindanao Times, the oldest newspaper in Mindanao. Fresh from representing the Philippines in the recent 14th Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali, award-winning writer Jhoanna Cruz will share her insights on CNF. She is currently Associate Professor of creative writing and literature at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Master of Arts in Language and Literature, both with High Distinction, from De La Salle University-Manila. She is the immediate past president of Davao Writers Guild.

Project WRITE Davao will be held on 01 Dec 2017 at the DMSF Campus in collaboration with Buklod Medisina and the DMSF Alumni Office. (Dr. Pingoy is a physician from Marbel, South Cotabato.)