Joe B. Sills said he's a better writer for having gotten his master of fine arts degree in fiction from the University of Virginia's Creative Writing Program. He also thinks it will help him become a better physician.
"I think that storytelling will be a precious skill to have as a doctor – to be able to grasp the context of a patient's life, to imagine how that patient might feel and to meaningfully communicate that patient's experience to other doctors involved in his or her care," he said.
Sills took a break between his second and third years of medical school at Tufts University to devote two years to writing fiction. As a Henry Hoyns and Poe/Faulkner Fellow in U.Va.'s highly regarded Creative Writing Program in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, he took workshops with English department faculty members Chris Tilghman, John Casey, Deborah Eisenberg and Ann Beattie.
It's not unusual for a medical student to take time off midway through their four years, but typically the interlude is directed toward a related study, such as public health. Sills said his deans asked what an MFA was before granting his leave.
"They were like a pair of very supportive if slightly baffled parents," he said.