Integrating Academic Writing into day to day Practice as SAS/LED Doctors

Integrating Academic Writing into day to day Practice as SAS/LED Doctors

 Academic writing and publishing is an extremely rewarding and satisfying aspect of clinical practice. However, most SAS/LED doctors don’t seem to know the ‘how and why’, or do not realise the importance of academic writing in their career progression. Some are interested but are tied down by their clinical commitments that prevent them from devoting time to writing. Why is academic writing important? Can SAS/LED doctors become academic writers and publishers? Is it time consuming, and if so, is it worth the time? After authoring multiple peer-reviewed publications in academia, as well as publishing several books despite a busy general surgical practice, I will now endeavour to entice you towards academic writing.

Surgeons can naturally be good writers – after all, a cornerstone of being a good surgeon involves attention to detail and thoroughness, as well as creativity and ingenuity. All of these are excellent traits for aspiring writers, hence if one follows logically more surgeons should take up academic writing. Why, however, do only a minority of SAS/LED surgeons take up academic writing?

The most common reason that dissuades SAS/LED surgeons from becoming academic writers is the fact that they are unaware of the ‘nitty gritty’ of the process. I recall I was encouraged to write my first peer-reviewed academic paper when I was a foundation year one doctor – there was a patient with Fanconi anaemia with diffuse bilateral pulmonary AVMs, and I remember discussing with my then registrar how rarely this condition occurs concurrently. After a brief internet search we were even more surprised that there were only a handful of cases reported in the literature. My then registrar entrusted me with the task of writing the draft article, which we polished to become the final manuscript later – I still recall the day that I saw my name in print, and it was indeed such a nice feeling. A decade later and I still feel the same excitement when I see my name in print!

Therefore, I would say keeping one’s eyes open and maintaining a childlike curiosity is the key to a good start. Always be on the lookout for unusual cases, signs and symptoms that pop up in your clinical practice. Secondly, always have a good mentor to guide your initial few papers – two pairs of eyes are always better than one!

If anyone asks me what the two most important traits one should possess are to become an academic writer, I would say that time management and self-discipline are key. In a world full of distractions, more than ever before, understanding the value of time and staying focused until one achieves the desired outcomes are very important. I usually write in the evening after the kids have gone to sleep and the daily chores are done. I get rid of my phone and any other flashy screens and focus on writing in 45-minute blocks with 15-minute breaks, without any distractions in-between. It is certainly harder when you start off but becomes easier once you have established a routine. Self-discipline – in other words seeing through your projects until the end – is also very important. Countless times I have seen juniors who start off projects enthusiastically but do not follow through. The old adage holds true here: ABC – Always Be Closing. in other words, finish what you start!

I usually work on a few projects at one time, and always maintain separate folders on my laptop for each. I use cloud storage systems so that I don’t have to rely on physical USB sticks or portable hard drives to carry my work around. Whenever I see an opportunity, I will log into the cloud and start work, as the material I am working on is always with me on the cloud storage system.

As with most things in life, the more you engage in any activity, the better you become. The more you write, the better you will become at it. Fortunately for the SAS/LED doctors, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh offers multiple platforms for you to voice your opinions, including Surgeons’ News and the RCSEd online blog. Please use them! Remember perfect is the enemy of good, so one needs to start somewhere and progress.

Initially in your academic writing career, don’t worry too much about the high-end journals. Any indexed journal with an impact factor would do and concentrate on publishing as many articles as possible. Once you have gathered experience and momentum, success will follow, and you will progress and move towards high-end journals. Learn from rejections and look at the reasons given logically and see how one can improve – never take anything personally.

Why all this hassle, you may ask? Academic writing and publishing is extremely rewarding. Believe me when I say that seeing your name in print and being cited for your work is so self-fulfilling and acts as a force propelling you to write more. Secondly, through research and publication one can build connections and advance their career. If one is constantly producing high quality work, one can certainly be rewarded with honorary titles such as lecturer or professor in due course.

Last but not least, once you are established and understand the ropes, you can always help others by guiding them. Remember to give back by paying it forward.

I wish all of you a very fruitful academic writing and publishing career. Remember to use the excellent resources provided by the Royal college of Surgeons of Edinburgh such as the RCSEd blog and ‘The Surgeon’ journal – I guarantee you that you will not regret the decision to embark on a journey of academic writing and publishing.

Mr Lasitha B Samarakoon FEBS FRCSEd FFSTEd is a Consultant General Surgeon from East Midlands who is active in academic publishing despite a busy clinical practice. He is also a member of the SAS LED Committee and the Surgical Speciality Board for General Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He enjoys teaching and mentoring the next generation of Surgeons, and is also a clinical tutor for the College as well as the University of Edinburgh.

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