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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 14, 2007

Photos: (top to bottom) Scott Vogelgesang, M.D.; Loreen Herwaldt, M.D.; James Christensen, M.D.; Arti Barnes, M.D., and Margaret LeMay-Lewis.

UI Doctors Practice Creativity As Part Of Writing Group

Several University of Iowa physicians are trying their hand at something other than practicing medicine. In an occasional break from their daily, scientific, fact-filled lives, they're indulging their creative sides.

The Internal Medicine Writers' Group -- made up of several faculty, fellows, residents and emeritus faculty from the Department of Internal Medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine -- aims to give a creative outlet to medical professionals who otherwise might not have the opportunity to craft and share their work.

Participants write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction or personal essays and meet once a month for about an hour to read, critique and discuss drafts with their colleagues. About 50 physicians have participated at least once in the writers' group, with attendance ranging anywhere from two to 15 people for each session.

"The University of Iowa has a wonderful tradition of literary excellence in the Iowa Writers' Workshop," said Scott Vogelgesang (photo upper left), M.D., UI clinical professor and director of the internal medicine residency program. "I think it's important to take advantage of this local expertise, particularly since we have a number of physicians with an interest in writing and literature."

For doctors, in particular, the stresses of daily life may produce a greater desire to have a creative outlet, said Loreen Herwaldt (left), M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and one of the group's writers.

"Our profession is very intense; it deals with life and death issues and issues with tremendous ethical and moral ramifications. We hear and witness stories everyday. If you don't have an outlet for them you can become like the Dead Sea," Herwaldt said.

"I think everyone will be a better person if he or she has a creative outlet," said James Christensen (right), M.D., UI professor emeritus of internal medicine. "It is absolutely essential for one to be a complete person."

Not surprisingly, many of the writers say their inspiration comes from day-to-day encounters they have while practicing medicine. "The Family in the Waiting Room," a poem by Christensen, is based on his impressions of the way people deal with life events. It has been selected for publication in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, in a section dealing with humanities and medicine.

Being published is nothing new to most of the doctors, who have published numerous scientific studies in various medical journals and book chapters. But they say that having their creative work critiqued by the group brings better quality to their writing.

"Having my work discussed by the group enables me to see how people react to the piece," said Herwaldt, who authored a poem published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2002. "I can learn what was understood and what wasn't clear, what worked and what didn't. I can learn how to make the piece better."

Short story author Arti Barnes (left), M.D., a resident in internal medicine who has participated in the group for about a year, agreed. "Constructive criticism brings more focus to your work. It helps you look at your work more objectively," she said.

Ultimately, though, everyone agrees that the purpose of the group is mainly for enjoyment. Unfortunately, because of the doctors' busy schedules, arranging a time for the group meetings can be difficult, said the group's moderator, Margaret LeMay-Lewis (lower right), writing program coordinator in the UI Carver College of Medicine's Office of Student Affairs and Curriculum.

"Still, that makes seeing faces you haven't seen for a little while a little more special," she said. "I enjoy the group, and I am honored to have the chance to be a part of it and meet such great people." LeMay is a 2001 graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her poetry collection, "Town," is currently a finalist for the 2007 Four Way Books Levis Poetry Prize.

In addition to LeMay, Bill Radl, program assistant in internal medicine, helps organize the monthly creative sessions.

Although all current participants of the group are members of the Department of Internal Medicine, the group is open to other departments, and all interested physicians are encouraged to join. Those interested may contact Margaret LeMay-Lewis at or 319-335-8051.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319-335-6660,; Writer: Brandy Huseman