As physicians throughout the health care industry continue to battle the effects of burnout, Nathan Carlin, PhD, professor and Samuel E. Karff, DHL Chair at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, is doing his part to help alumni of McGovern Medical School find their creative side.

Carlin recently designed and hosted a two-day conference for alumni of the Medical Humanities Scholarly Concentration to guide physicians interested in a writing career.

Carlin, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), derived the model for the conference, titled “Varieties of Medical Experience: Early-Career Physicians Write Their Lives,” from a small gathering of the Group for New Directions in Pastoral Theology, which meets yearly at Princeton.

“It is the best conference that I am a part of, and so I’m bringing this to medicine,” Carlin said.

Carlin invited alumni who graduated from the 2009-20 Medical Humanities Scholarly Concentration and asked for  memoirs or reflections related to each writer’s clinical or professional life. Submissions provided a forum for the participants to write about their experiences in medicine.

From the submissions, Carlin selected 17 to participate in a 2-day conference held April 15-16 via Webex. Each submitted paper was approximately 6,000 words in length and focused on events holding great personal meaning in the respective author’s life.

Some participants chose to write about current events, such as handling the COVID-19 pandemic as a young physician, while others reflected on experiences throughout their life. One example described growing up in a different country, describing how experiences both in Mexico and in the United States helped to shape their academic and professional careers.

“It was so special to have so many of my former students back for this conference, using their humanities training to write about their clinical life now,” Carlin said. “They wrote about such important issues, and I am proud of them. They are open, and vulnerable, and admirable — and human.”

Throughout the conference, each writer was given a 1-hour time slot to present their paper, while another member of the group served as the respondent. Following the conference, each paper will represent a chapter in a hard-copy book.

“The conference model is really special, where we workshop each paper for an hour,” Carlin said. “It’s really meaningful feedback and will make the chapters better; most conferences just do not do this for people.”

The conference also served as a way for McGovern Medical School alumni to reconnect with one another and form bonds through the art of writing. According to Carlin, the conference may also have set an (unofficial) record for youngest attendee at a humanities conference, when the 2-day old baby of members Alex and Latoya Comer Frolov joined the group.

“I think we all felt that we built such a close relationship despite the distance and short time frame,” said Ellen Wong, MD ’15. “I was so glad to have met everyone, and I hope someday we can all meet in person.”