Concentration in Physician as Communicator

Physician as Communicator

Concentration Director

Teresa L. Schraeder, MD
Graduate Medical Education Editor
New England Journal of Medicine


In recent years, it has become clear that many medical students and physicians are interested in writing and even clearer that the medical school education of physicians can and should include an education in effective communications.

The Physician as Communicator Scholarly Concentration will encompass all aspects of communication. Whether a medical student has a particular interest in writing an article or a book, producing a documentary or podcast, or just learning to speak more effectively in front of others, this concentration will offer guidance, support, and the structure to produce a major project for publication.

Physicians and physicians-in-training who can effectively communicate no doubt benefit in various ways, but they also may ultimately provide better care and service to the public, their patients, and their profession.

This concentration is designed for the medical student who is interested in the power of the word – in all forms of media.  The written, spoken, electronically broadcast or visually displayed forms of expression will all be part of the curricula. The student will focus on their particular area of interest in their particular medium and then meet regularly with other students, outline and complete writing or other media projects, provide updates to their mentor, and meet the ongoing requirements throughout the four years of medical school.

For the students selected to participate in the Physician as Communicator Scholarly Concentration, there will be continuing assistance offered for their self-focused goals of improving their own journalistic skills of communication and completion of presentations and projects. From the lay press and mass media to the professional medical literature and giving grand rounds – the student can explore many ways to examine and expand the ability to communicate within and on behalf of their profession and themselves.

This concentration not only provides a foundation of helpful information and support but will also give the student a greater understanding of the world of medical journalism – from developing a critical eye when reading published work to being interviewed by the press themselves and eventually navigating the editing and submission processes as a professional physician writer or a physician broadcaster.

The Physician as Communicator Concentration can easily overlap or help facilitate and encompass ideas and topics from virtually any of the other eleven Scholarly Concentrations including Bioethics, Advocacy and Activism, Aging, Medical Education, Global Health, etc. Any student who wants to focus on one of the other areas of concentration specifically could also benefit from involvement in Physician as Communicator to help collect, write and present their work.  


The student who selects this concentration will be responsible for:

  1. Elective Course: Attendance and participation in the current medical student writing elective course. This elective meets once or twice per month with a faculty member during the academic year (and often times during the summer as well) and will include other medical students who are not officially part of the concentration. This ongoing elective provides a core support group and excellent resource for any medical student interested in writing. Visiting speakers as well as information about book readings, writing contests, publication/submission requests, and lectures will be offered. The regular two-hour sessions provide an opportunity for students to meet with each other, present their writing or broadcast work and receive feedback, and assistance in having their work edited and submitted for publication.  The medical students who participate in this course provide administrative help with the course including planning events of interest to the writing class.
  2. Scholarly Project: This scholarly concentration will require completion of a major communications project such as an in-depth article (6,000 words plus), a book (including initial outline and all or most chapters completed), or documentary (fully edited and ready for submission or broadcast) or series of written articles on a particular subject of interest to the student.
  3. Regular Updates: The student will be required to have regular contact with a mentor who is overseeing their scholarly project and provide regular updates and receive feedback on their progress from the mentor and or concentration leader.
  4. Reading List: Completion of selected articles and books from a master reading list that will include medical literature, medical journalism, medical narrative, medical mystery, medical nonfiction and grammar and will be distributed to the students and updated regularly.
  5. Presentations: The student will be responsible for presenting their final work in front of the medical students writing elective course and possibly a larger audience including other medical students and faculty.


The student applying to the Physician as Communicator Scholarly Concentration should have a particular writing or communications project (book, series of articles, documentary, website, podcasts, etc.) in mind that will act as the basis for a summer experience, as well as for a potential final scholarly product.  The student must outline this project in detail in their application.

During the summer between Year I and Year II, the student will spend 8-10 weeks working on their communications project.  The student’s work might include the completion of certain written products (the quantity of which to be agreed upon by the student and faculty mentor ahead of time), the collection of information and research including literature searches, interviews, etc., or some combination thereof.  This work will form the basis of the student’s final scholarly project. If the student has secured an internship/externship in the medical communications field for the summer between Year I and Year II, the student will still be responsible for collecting and researching the bulk of information needed for their final scholarly writing project. The student will meet with the concentration leader and/or their mentor before the summer and make a commitment to present their research and data at the beginning of Year II.

Major activities for students in Years II –IV involve participating in the Physician as Communicator elective, conducting any further research or interviews necessary, and completing the final scholarly product.

Concentration Related Electives

BIOL 3710 I: Physician as Communicator

Learning Objectives

  • To find one’s voice and ultimately improve one’s ability to write and critique others' writing.
  • To become familiar with all genres of “medical writing” both past and present and analyze the various styles, mediums, and function of the profession. 
  • To improve one’s ability to think like a writer -- and then to learn concrete ways to research a topic and direct one's writing for the desired audience.
  • To master the ability to select a project and then provide an outline, conduct interviews, literature reviews, and to bring the project to fruition – all the while learning more about the entire process of writing for publication from query to submission.
  • To improve one’s ability to speak and give presentations on medical subjects before others and to listen critically to others' presentations.
  • To provide the student with a forum to capture and express in words or pictures the experiences and lessons during an extraordinary time of medical training – the first four years of graduate medical education.

Project Examples

The student’s scholarly project could include a first-person narrative of clinical work abroad in  book form, or an in-depth exploration of a particular area of interest in clinical medicine in an article or series of articles, a paper on biological sciences or bioethics, an audio or video documentary on a controversial topic in medicine, or an autobiographical sketch of an individual in medical history --- as well as any other topic the student and mentor determine acceptable to meet the requirements for a scholarly concentration project in medical writing or communications.

2010 Accepted Students & Scholarly Concentration Projects:

Student Project Title Mentor
Yang, Angela Beyond pain and meds: stories of chronic pain patients on long-term opiods/narcotics Dr. Jeffrey Borkan

Maximum Number of Students

This concentration will be able to accommodate 2-4 students to start. 

Faculty Mentors

There will be approximately 4 to 5 faculty to mentor students.

Funding Opportunities
(alternatives to Summer Assistantships)

There is a possibility of securing short-term internship or externship opportunities with medical journals, newspapers, publishing companies, or broadcast outlets for the medical student who wants to actually spend part of their time working directly in an area of medical communications or writing.