When I was a child, I discovered I had superpowers. One day my mother left me at home with a list of tasks, chores and invented homework assignments to complete over summer break — the joys of having a mom who is also a teacher. As my eyes wandered down each line of the list, I decided now was the time for my rebellion.
I flipped the paper over, took a blue pen in my hand, and blasted my thoughts onto the back of the page. I lamented the trivial nature of the tasks, I eschewed responsibility for the chores, and I detailed why each homework assignment was not worth wasting a precious summer day of my youth.
When my mom got home, none of the list was complete. She walked to our kitchen table, stared at the piece of paper, and called me into the room. Underneath my second pair of reinforced underwear, my skin tingled in anticipation of a spanking from a piece of plywood we not-so-affectionately called The Board of Education.
Instead, my mom just held up the list with my blue scrawled writing on the back.
“Did you do this?” she said.
“Yes.” I swallowed a lump in my throat.
“Well,” she said. “This is very well-written.”
She folded the paper in half and walked away. That day, at least, I guess the pen was mightier than the Board.
On that fateful summer day, I realized writing could solve my problems and take me places I couldn’t otherwise reach. Since then, I’ve always viewed it as a special power.
Sure, I’ve made money with writing gigs since I was a teenager. But as a health care professional, the ability to publish my thoughts and share them with the world has helped me achieve much more than a simple paycheck. It opened the door to a medical education at Yale — a place I never dreamed was within my reach. It helped me secure clinical jobs at some of the best hospitals in the country. It propelled me to national leadership positions, helped me land a coveted position in academia, and gave me a megaphone to advocate for important social causes. Just about every professional success I have ever had traces back, in some way, to writing.
But I don’t expect every health care professional to share my love and passion for writing. In fact, most of you hate it. And that’s OK. You can still harness the power of writing and publication to advance your career, create new opportunities, and impact the causes you care about. Here are some ways writing and publication can supercharge your career.
Establish expertise to advance your clinical role.
In our current health care system, clinicians often feel like interchangeable cogs in a giant medical machine. For clinical jobs, promotions, and other forms of advancement, we often compete against other clinicians with similar training, credentials, and experience. We need an edge to set ourselves apart.
Publication is an excellent way to separate yourself from the ranks of other skilled clinicians. Real experts don’t just hold on to information; the true mark of mastery is the ability to break down, synthesize, and present knowledge to others in a way they can easily absorb. This means you don’t have to be a prominent researcher to show off your clinical acumen. Even the best medical journals in the world, like The New England Journal of Medicine, are looking for non-research articles, like clinical review articles.
If you want to learn more about the different article types that academic journals publish, read this.
Open the gateway to academia or education.
One of the best ways to have a lasting professional impact in health care is to educate the next generation of clinicians. But for those looking to make teaching a full-time career, breaking into the world of academia can be intimidating. After all, colleges and universities aren’t just looking for excellent clinicians; they also want well-rounded individuals with teaching talent and other scholarly skills.
Applicants to academic jobs can demonstrate their potential as a future faculty member by writing, publishing, and otherwise disseminating their ideas. Academic institutions are especially looking for individuals who will cultivate a national and even international reputation as they build a body of work throughout their careers. By publishing just a few small projects — even as simple as case reports and commentary articles — clinicians can show they are willing and able to contribute to the academic literature.
Creating non-clinical opportunities
Many health care professionals dream of taking their knowledge, skills, and experience beyond the bedside. Perhaps they are interested in the development of commercial products, a national or global impact through policy work, breaking ground through entrepreneurial pursuits, or are just looking for an alternate source of income.
No matter the specific destination, most non-clinical health care jobs will require clinicians to show that they have both a valuable expertise and the ability to communicate complex ideas to a diverse audience of stakeholders. By publishing and disseminating their ideas, clinicians can showcase both attributes at the same time. This approach especially works well when an author publishes multiple articles in a specific area of interest, establishing a reputation in that niche through their body of work.
Writing and publication is an excellent way for clinicians to expand their impact on their communities, create new opportunities and career paths, and leave a lasting professional legacy. But new authors don’t need to start with a massive research project. Even small, meaningful projects can lay the foundation for a body of work that supercharges your career in unexpected ways. Don’t let self-doubt stop you from tackling that next project; there is a writing superpower inside of you, waiting to be unlocked.
Harrison Reed is a physician assistant.