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Medical Writings |

Keeping Faith: Ethics and the Physician-Writer

Jack Coulehan, MD, MPH; and Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, PhD
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From State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794; and The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, PA 17033.


This essay grew out of a panel presentation on “The Ethics of Writing about Patients” at the meeting of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, Baltimore, Maryland, 24 October 2002.

Acknowledgments: The authors acknowledge the support and suggestions of Amy Haddad, RN, PhD, who participated in the panel.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Requests for Single Reprints: Jack Coulehan, MD, MPH, Department of Preventive Medicine, HSC L3-086, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8036.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. Coulehan: Department of Preventive Medicine, HSC L3-086, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8036.

Dr. Hunsaker Hawkins: Department of Humanities, H134, The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, 500 University Drive, Hershey, PA 17033.


Ann Intern Med. 2003;139(4):307-311. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-139-4-200308190-00030
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Writing about patients is a growth industry. While doctors have always shared detailed case histories with their colleagues, many physicians now publish stories about patients designed for a broader professional and lay public. Stories and poems written by physicians appear in medical journals, commercial magazines, and books and anthologies intended for a general audience. These stories about medical care are usually presented, either implicitly or explicitly, as the writer's “real” experience (hence, nonfiction), although the writers sometimes indicate that they have altered or fictionalized the work. In other cases, physician-writers produce first-person fiction (so indicated) that reads like “real-life” professional experience.

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