Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Medical Blogger Interview

It finally came out!  I've yet to get my hand on a copy, although Steve Brawner, freelance journalist, promised me a good old-fashioned paper version.  I'm still waiting!

Ok, so things don't translate well from e-mail to blogs, or I can't anyway.  And this is enough about me to even make my family members nauseated.  But anyway, there it is.  I've gotten a little bump, if only brief.  Thanks a bunch Steve!  If anyone wants to have the story of their lives translated in to book form, Steve's your man.  Check it out at the link above.  I'm all copy/paste/linked out.

Here's the interview:

Hi, Dr. Schneider,
Thank you for responding.  Yes, I would still like to ask you some questions.  I think the "purely for entertainment purposes" angle is one thing I would like to explore.  So, here are my questions.

1. When did you start?

         Last fall -- November.  I was at a pathology conference in Monterey, California.  It was the day
          Obama won the election.

2. Why did you start?
            I always liked writing in high school, and won some creative writing contests.  Medicine is a different world - very exact, a world that consumed me for ten years.  All of the tests are multiple choice (monkey tests, one of my teachers called them) and science, for the most part, does not encourage imagination.  When I got my first e-mail address in residency, I started writing to friends, and really enjoyed it.  One of my best friends from residency used to call me "Lizzie of the Long E-mails" - she is now my most faithful commenter on my blog.  Another friend that I e-mailed encouraged me to start.  I was nervous at first, because I am a bit obsessive and hypercritical of myself, and I worried about my grammar and making mistakes.  But I have found blogging, so far, to be like a safe zone.  I am not submitting anything to be criticized or rejected - just having fun, and I have loosened up a lot since November.

3. Who is your audience?
            I am constantly surprised by my audience.  I know certain friends and family read it, and that really keeps me going.  My brother had surgery last month and I wrote to entertain him, while he was in the hospital.  I found out recently that my husband's uncle, who I have never met, follows my blog.  I also found out a couple of weeks ago that a good friend from UAMS gets e-mail updates.  I can follow my daily hits on google analytics - but I haven't checked since April.  I was so happy to be getting a steady 15-25 hits a day, which is good for me, that I haven't wanted to watch the numbers go down, so I am living in that happy memory.  Two of my audience members started their own blogs, and I love to follow them.  I got to enjoy the escapades of one of my good friends in college during her teaching stint in China this spring.  So blogging is contagious, I learned.

4. What do you usually write about?
              It changes.  In the beginning, I was writing medical essays, about my experiences in training and at work.  Now it has become more family oriented, but medicine is still definitely a big part.  Sometimes I write about a song or book I am enjoying that week.  I try not to have an agenda, since being a physician and mother demands constant agenda.
5. How much time do you devote to this? 
              Maybe a half hour a week, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.  I like getting an idea in my head, playing with it, and then sitting down to spit it out all at once.  Other times it is more spontaneous.  I usually blog about once a week.
6. How do you find the time to do it?  
I mostly do it at night after the kids go to bed.  Rarely I find time on a work break.
7. What are your goals? 

          Purely entertainment.  When you get bogged down in your work, it gets commonplace and routine.  Boring and exhausting.  This happened for me, during my fellowship years in cytology and surgical pathology, which were fun but grueling, especially when you add two small children to the mix.  I was shocked to find others interested in what I do for a living, and started having fun telling stories for an outside audience.  Pathology and medicine are truly amazing, and it is nice remind myself of that, by storytelling.
8. Does it provide you an emotional release?
            I hadn't really thought of it that way, but I guess it does, a little bit.  It definitely provides a sense of accomplishment, one that is very different from looking through a microscope and diagnosing tissue all day long.  Sometimes I feel like getting through a busy workday is like completing a marathon - a sports-like achievement.  Writing is satisfying in a much more relaxing way, probably because it isn't my job.

9. Does it fulfill a long-held desire to write? How about sparking a creative side?

             Refer to question 2.
10. Is there a simple practical reason to do this, such as helping a busy pathologist maintain contact with her friends and family?

                  Definitely.  Refer to question 3.
11. How do you avoid running afoul of HIPPA, etc.?

                 I was extremely concerned about this in the beginning.  So much so, that I sat down on two separate occasions with a mentor from my training to discuss it.  She agreed it was OK to start, and then followed it and discussed concerns with me.  I fictionalize a lot of my characters, especially the patient ones, by exaggerating or morphing two or three different experiences into one.  I changed my own name, and I changed the names of my family members and the doctors I work with and have trained with, in addition to patient names.  Most people want to be written about and seem to enjoy it - some don't.  I try to respect that, and would gladly delete a blog if anyone recognized too much of their own self in one of my characters and wasn't happy, or took it personally.  I would hope that anyone would realize that if I describe them in incredible detail, it is usually a sign that I like them a lot.  There aren't too many people I have encountered that I don't like.  If I don't like someone, and they end up getting painted in a negative light, I usually exaggerate and further fictionalize them so they no longer resemble the character they stemmed from.  

I also remove patient-based encounters that inspire writing far from the actual time/date they occur to avoid violating anyone - even anonymous, fictionalized characters.  

12. Any advice for would-be physician-bloggers?
             I am still learning as I go.  I follow some work-related pathology blogs, but they are so different from what I do that it is tough to draw comparisons.  I would hope that if someone wanted to start one they could learn a little from this interview.
Do you advertise or benefit financially?

Do you post links in your text where readers can purchase a product?
         The only links I can remember posting to a product I liked was the subject of my blog, so very disclosed.  I never just post a random link.  In fact, having trouble posting links  - due to business, laziness, and lack of knowledge, is a common self-deprecating theme in my blog.  I just learned how to post a link, and had to take mac classes at best buy to learn to do a lot of what I do on my primitive blog.
 If you do either of these, do you disclose it?  (This is an issue among some bloggers.)
                 See above. 

Thanks for anything you can do!

(an answer to an earlier question):I don't think anything you put on the internet is really anonymous.  Everyone who reads it knows who I am, and I take measures to protect the info I should.  I guess I don't mind if you disclose.  I worried a lot about doing this piece, because I enjoy where I am, in my blogging, and I don't want to rock the boat.  But I ultimately decided it might be an OK thing.

Steve Brawner
Steve Brawner Communications
(501) 847-7743
Bryant, Ark.


christie cathey said...

Excellent interview! I sat up a little straighter in my chair when I read the bit about the friend in China!

Gizabeth Shyder said...

Remember - I have you to thank for all this MNA press in the first place. Your friend actually facebook friended me after this interview. I guess she decided I wasn't too weird.

Yes, sit straight - regal. Like a queen!

I'm gonna work on your gift next week when I am on vacay, I promise! I'll wear the red bangle for inspiration. Can't wait.

ts said...

wow lizzie!!!