By my desk I post two index cards—slightly faded, coffee-stained, corners blunted to soft fiber. On each I have written a quotation in black ink. One is from Sir William Osler, the father of modern clinical medicine. The other is by John Gardner, author of the fantasy masterpiece Grendel and a giant in the field of creative writing instruction.

If it were not for the great variability among individuals, medicine might as well be a science and not an art.

-Sir William Osler

The true artist chooses never to be a bad physician. He gets his sense of worth and honor from his conviction that art is powerful–even bad art.

-John Gardner

Pursuing dual careers can be an exhausting, even haunting task. Devoting time to one craft is almost always accompanied by the sensation that the other craft is being neglected. The above quotations remind me why I bother to combine medicine and literature. At the root of both arts—when practiced correctly—is a transformation. From sickness to health, from ignorance to experience, from absence of feeling to wonder or awe or dread. Both arts are about expanding life, helping us become more rightly ourselves.

That might sound like lofty mumbo-jumbo coming from a guy who writes about wizards and dragons.

Maybe it is. But it gets me out of bed in the morning and keeps my fingers on the keyboard or my eyes on the textbook. Here’s why. I was saved from a severe disability by two things: an early clinical diagnosis of dyslexia, and fantasy and science fiction novels. It took most of my twenties to discover it, but my life’s goal is to give back to the two art forms that saved me.

So that’s the short, philosophical how-I-got-to-here. The longer, biographical narrative lives on the following subpage: From Special Ed to Stanford Med.

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