How creative writing helps me understand my patients

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how challenging working in healthcare can be. It became more important than ever for staff and healthcare professionals to find support and look after their wellbeing.

Dr Neel Sharma is a Gastrointestinal Medicine Specialist and he recently talked to us about his love of creative writing. It helps him deal with difficult days and improves the care that he provides to his patients.

My work combines medicine, engineering, and mentorship and I recently launched the Clinician Engineer Hub while working as an Academic Clinical Lecturer at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Neel Sharma
Gastrointestinal medicine specialist







The Hub is an international network giving medical students and doctors the chance to learn about cutting edge engineering and how it could be used in health care. It could be using advanced imaging, robotics, or tissue engineering, for example. The list is endless and it’s a lot of fun!

I’ve always loved language and writing, ever since creative writing lessons at school.

I really appreciate the beauty of the letters on the screen and on paper and I’m fascinated by the way we express ourselves through words. The way we interpret the meaning of words and sentences is the fun part. Writing allows for the sharing of experiences which we might prefer not to talk about.

So, it felt natural to me to use creative writing to express the thoughts and feelings which arise in my professional life as a doctor. I write to help myself process the events and conversations that happen during the course of my work.

Writing allows me to reflect on my practice and really try to understand where my patients are coming from. It helps me see how their perspective might be different from my own.

My piece IBD Reflections – thinking about my patients, thinking about their journey is a good example of this.

I explored how asking for a stool sample or referring for a colonoscopy seems so simple for clinicians yet can be so uncomfortable for patients.

Even something like the unpleasant taste of nutritional drinks such as Fortisip can make an impact on someone’s life. But as healthcare professionals, we don’t always think about that. We just prescribe them.

Despite the many challenges faced by people living with Crohn’s and Colitis, I am constantly amazed and inspired by what my patients manage to achieve in their personal lives.

I always encourage my colleagues in healthcare to try something creative. Unfortunately, they don’t always share my enthusiasm!

I chuckle when people raise their eyebrows at the thought.

It can be difficult to find the time and energy to create something when you have a demanding job, responsibilities, family life, and hobbies to juggle. However, it can really help you unwind after a long day and, like keeping a journal, getting your thoughts down on paper can stop them circling round in your head. It gives you a chance to clear your mind which can make you more rested and productive the next day.

Creativity can also bring us closer to each other and help us develop a shared understanding that is so important to us as humans. Communication is a huge part of our lives, so why not enjoy it?

My approach to creative writing isn’t just for those in healthcare, it can be a vital wellbeing tool that lots of people turn to in times of need.

If you want to try creative writing, simply turn off your phone, close down social media, try to find a space that’s as quiet as possible, and get started.

Most importantly, look around. We don’t look at things anymore. I see people glued to their phones, looking down, holding lattes. If we simply took a while to take in our surroundings that often helps the creative process.

Don’t feel that you have to create a masterpiece on your first attempt. After all, what is a masterpiece? And if you decide not to share it with anyone, that’s fine too.

If you do post your creative writing inspired by Crohn’s or Colitis on social media, we’d love to see it. Tag us wherever you share your writing!

Need more inspiration?

It takes guts is a great place to read other people's experiences of life with Crohn's or Colitis, and learn the power of sharing your own.


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