A Personal Journey from Writing to Medicine

Leslie Lee Nonfiction Scholarship – Nonfiction

Tessa Felker

Elk Rapids – 12th Grade

Medical textbooks, stethoscopes, and scrubs were never part of my childhood dreams. At a young age, I could be found with my nose buried in a book or a pencil pressed between my fingers, creating a callus on my ring finger that is still there today. Everyone, including myself for the longest time, felt as though I was destined to be a writer. During my teenage years, writing—specifically poetry—has helped me navigate and process my emotions more than any other medium. Writing is the core of who I am, the building block of my identity. Although I continually shared this passion for language with the people and world around me, I could not deny the gravitational pull I felt to something different.

After taking chemistry my sophomore year, I became consumed by the world of science. I was enthralled by the complex thinking it required, and how scientific approaches, ideas, and perspectives differed from any other school subject. My silent desire to pursue a medical career continued to grow throughout high school, but the fear of losing writing as a connection to myself stunted my commitment to the idea. Society has consistently taught us to view writing and science as being antithetical to each other. Doctors are stereotypically known for being detached and emotionless. This could not be further from who I am, nor does it describe the reality of medical based careers. It was not until an event in the winter of my junior year that I discovered my passion and love for personal writing could act as a future tool in becoming a physician’s assistant.

It was early December, 2022, and I was standing at a podium before hundreds, throat dry, legs shaking. I had been selected to read one of my poems at an Anna Quindlen book event sponsored by the National Writers Series, and after weeks of preparation the day had finally arrived. After reading, I received warm feedback and had the privilege of hearing how my poem resonated with others. Although this was momentous for me as a writer, my biggest takeaway from the event was something I learned from Quindlen’s book, Write For Your Life. In the book, Quindlen dives into the importance of writing, highlighting it as a fundamental skill that allows people to make deeper connections in their day-to-day lives. However, one particular chapter of the book discusses the “Parallel Chart.” Created by Dr. Rita Charon, the Parallel Chart is part of a practice called narrative medicine, in which doctors analyze their personal thoughts and emotions within a chart separate from their patient’s. This was the first time I had discovered writing and science in a symbiotic relationship, and was captivated by Charon’s ability to highlight the importance of the two.

When describing the need for writing, Dr. Charon states, “Unless we can attend to the interior life, the courage, if you will, of our developing doctors, we will end up with doctors who flinch when things don’t go well, who abandon patients when they’re dying.” Where it may seem useful to foster the ability to emotionally detach, maintaining the courage to feel forges a compassionate caretaker. Writing is therapeutic, and to process the hardships of one’s career, a pen could prove just as powerful as a scalpel. My ability to connect to my emotions through the vehicle of writing will benefit me when connecting with my future patients. This epiphany led me to a fortified confidence in my future goals, knowing that physician’s assistant programs are continuing to integrate narrative medicine into their curricula. As I step forward into this new chapter of my life, I trust that writing will be the compass guiding me towards a future defined by empathy, healing, and boundless connection.