VMWS Literary Event 2019

Report written by Dr Magdalena Simonis, VMWS President

On Saturday August 17th we hosted our annual VMWS literary event, with doctors and authors Dr Melanie Cheng and Dr Leah Kaminsky. The event was a fabulous and enriching experience for those who attended. We were given deep and personal insights into what each medical literary journey encompassed. We discussed how the medical and life experiences of these doctors urge them to create stories, vignettes, and allegories of life, as they attempt to decode the complex interconnectedness of science, art and the human soul.

We listened to Leah Kaminsky describe her literary journey, from being a strong arts and humanities student, but wishing to become a doctor. Despite being advised to follow her strengths by the senior teachers at her school, Leah’s mother agreed to take her to another school to give her that chance for year 12. Medical student life was not without some stumbles as Leah embraced the diverse opportunities afforded her, resulting in her initial post-graduate paediatric training being interrupted by an invitation from a friend to ‘take a break’, visit USA and live with a friend for three months. Leah embraced this opportunity to pursue her love of writing and rediscovered that passion. Perhaps her teachers were right after all. Several writer’s courses later, and after realising the enormity of being the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, Leah found her creative force. She has given voice to the struggles of her mother, her patients, and the doctors who, like us, try the best they can while limited by human imperfections. Through all of this, Leah made us laugh a lot.

Melanie Cheng’s presentation then followed. The tone and style was different, just like their writing; Melanie shared touching excerpts from her books and described how she wrote continuously from her primary school days, and that her work as a GP gives her material for the stories she now writes. Melanie collated a series of short stories which made her the recipient of a prestigious literary prize, and kick started her writing career. A two-book contract was locked in which was both daunting and validating.

Both Leah and Melanie admitted in the post presentation chat, that despite being successful authors with publications, the financial remuneration remains small. They write because they love to and feel the need to.

The conversations we all shared over morning tea were animated. Everyone was energised and many spoke of a creative voice that had been relinquished due to the schedule of study, hospital training, career building, and then family life. Many of us admitted that once upon a time, we loved to write, play music, paint. We shared our stories with Melanie, Leah and each other, and I believe that it is time to establish a VMWS Medical Women Creatives segment on our newsletter and website. I had been thinking about this for a long time. Although there are other doctor writers groups, there is no Australian ‘medical women writers or creatives’ section, and our newsletter and website can provide a home for this. I believe it is about time I kicked this off, so with each bimonthly issue, requests from our readers for creative pieces, which includes poems and short stories will be made. Please take the opportunity to explore your creative voice.

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Magdalena Simonis