The Accidental Writer

On a hot day in February last year, I was sitting in my lounge room having a chinwag and a cuppa with a good friend of mine. I was confessing my anxiety about leaving my familiar life behind to become a nomadic rural locum. At some point in the conversation I said “Hey, I’m thinking about writing a blog about it. Do you think anyone would read it?”

“You should” she said. “I would read it.”

And so, the Nomadic GP blog was born, mostly with the intention of keeping in touch with the few close friends and ex co-workers who were interested in what I was up to, and also to let my family know every now and then that I was still alive. In part, I was inspired by other GP bloggers like Mel, Gerry and Casey and hoped that I might be able to make a small contribution to the great content that they, and others, were producing.

So I started writing, and my first few posts were very much just me sending words out into the universe. I enjoyed it, it was therapeutic, it gave me something to do when I was in a strange place with no friends and lots of time to kill. I didn’t really expect any response and was always kind of surprised when I got a new hit or follower. I couldn’t quite understand why anyone would want to read my self-indulgent rambling.

But then the coolest thing happened; the universe started to talk back. It turns out it wasn’t just my mum who was reading it, but actually there were lots of people I didn’t even know who were reading, sharing and commenting. Suddenly I was part of a community of blogging, FOAMing, tweeting medicos who quickly became a great personal and professional support network. It was hugely rewarding and provided much needed positive reinforcement. I kept writing.

Other opportunities followed – collaborations on the Broome Docs podcast, invitations to contribute to various state and national publications, involvement with the foam4gp and SoMeGP teams and inclusion in discussion panels. I was even given the honour of being awarded the 2013 Medical Forum Magazine Guest Column Award. However, the most rewarding thing has been having junior doctors tell me how they used the information from my blog posts to help them look after a patient or prepare for their exams, and having the privilege of mentoring a number of medical students, rurally bonded doctors and aspiring country GPs who have connected with me through my blog.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a “two post wonder”. Three-quarters of the visits to my site have been generated by only a couple of my 40-ish posts. It was a pretty crazy day when I casually published my post entitled “Sorry… But Are You Really A Doctor”, prompted by a discussion I’d had with a doctor friend after her experience of an in-flight medical call. Something I said had obviously hit a nerve and the post went viral, reaching nearly 8,000 people in a single day and 40,000 in a week. It peaked at number 7 in the most popular WordPress blog posts worldwide and came to the attention of the editors of the Huffington Post, who subsequently republished it on their site. All pretty hilarious and surreal for someone who never really considered herself much of a writer.

I learnt two very valuable lessons out of this experience. Firstly – if you want a post to be popular, write about an issue that affects lots of people but that is not really ever talked about. The number of comments from other professional women sharing their experiences of everyday workplace sexism was truly humbling and overwhelming. Secondly – the best way to lower your self-esteem is by reading hateful comments from strangers on the internet, otherwise known as “trolls”. I was called unprofessional, disrespectful, snobby, immature, myopic (technically true), selfish, ranting (also fair), whinger and a bad doctor. I had to very firmly remind myself that the people writing those comments didn’t know me or what sort of doctor I am, and that the positive feedback far outweighed the negative and spiteful commentry.

Still, in restrospect, if I was to write that post again, I would write it very differently. I can see how my meaning could have been misconstrued and misinterpreted. I’d like to think that over time I’ve become much better at articulating my arguments more clearly, being diplomatic and ensuring that my words come across as respectfully as possible, so hopefully the trolls will stay in their caves from now on.

A later post, “Are You Going to be a Specialist? Or Just a GP?” was also shared widely, and to date remains the piece that I am most proud of. It seemed to resonate with GPs and organisations from around the world and has been re-posted several times by different groups. I’ve had a couple of pretty cool moments when I’ve stumbled across twitter conversations between groups of overseas GPs who’ve recommended my own blog post to me, not in fact realising that I was the author! What an amazing feeling to think that I’ve helped contribute to conversations about the work of general practice all over the world.

The challenge has been to try and stay true to my own writing style without getting put off by the fact that I now have lots more readers than when I started. It’s scary to talk so openly about my intensely personal feelings and experiences in such a public forum. I sometimes push the “publish” button with my heart racing and eyes closed, hoping that I haven’t crossed the line and finally shared too much of myself. In the end, though, I think it’s my brutal honesty that people appreciate, because most people can relate to my experiences of hope, fear, love, loneliness, joy, sadness and the uncertainty of the future.

Yesterday my blog ticked over 100,000 views from 156 different countries, with an estimated 50,000 more views through re-posts on other sites, so I must be doing something right.

Thank you SO much to the friends and family who encouraged me to start writing in the first place, and to everyone who has ever read, commented, shared, liked or followed my blog. It’s the connection and feedback from all of you that encourages me to keep blogging. You haven’t heard the last from me, yet!


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