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Medical writing you don’t need to be sick to read

September 2014

Published in the September 2014 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

HOSPITALIST CRAIG BOWRON, MD, is well aware of the storied tradition of physicians who are also writers; his Twitter handle, after all, is #billcarlosbills.

But readers of Dr. Bowron’s Huffington Post blog or his health care articles on Slate and in the Washington Post might liken him more to Dave Barry than to Atul Gawande, MD. That’s because while his subjects can be serious and his (judicious amounts of) data impeccable, he leavens most topics with a great deal of humor. (See “Ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough to have sex?“).

“Most of the health care articles I was reading in the lay press were very threatening and could make readers feel sick or paranoid,” says Dr. Bowron, a hospitalist for nearly 20 years at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. “My goal was to deliver medical information that you don’t have to be sick to read.”

“Testosterone is a powerful hallucinogen.”


Craig Bowron, MD

As a doctor writing from the inside for consumers, he admits that he’s in “a bit of an unfair fight” with other health care journalists. “I’m given a little more wiggle room to have more fun because I have the MD behind me,” he says. Also because of his MD, editors give him “a long leash,” and he can pick his own topics.

“For every story, I follow my nose,” Dr. Bowron explains. “And health care topics are inexhaustible. You can pick up a cereal box, read the claims about fiber and you’re off.”

For years, Dr. Bowron contributed columns to Minnesota Monthly and to the online MinnPost, as well as pieces for Minnesota Public Radio. A local physician-author colleague, Ronald Glasser, MD, gave him “the hand-up I needed,” passing on “Arianna Huffington’s home phone number” and an introduction to Washington Post editors.

While he maintains no set writing schedule, he doesn’t write during his seven days on. “It’s a pretty intense job,” he notes. “When I come home, I’ve run out of words.”

Dr. Bowron doesn’t see himself leaving clinical practice. That would shut him off from patients’ stories and questions, the source of some of his best articles, including a series on end-of-life care. “I joke with my partners that I’m trying to write myself out of overnight call,” Dr. Bowron says. “That’s my first goal.”

He just might reach it with his latest writing project: an offbeat guide to the aging male that he describes as “a cross between UpToDate and ‘The Expendables,’ without all the gratuitous violence.” “Women are more social than men,” points out Dr. Bowron, who is 49, “and social lives can improve as people age. But men are more physical, and as we age, the physical is going away from us. It can’t be reclaimed by running more 10Ks, driving an overheated Camaro through the desert or dragging clawfoot bathtubs to the edge of the surf. So the process of aging for men is more satirical “and, as women can testify, testosterone is a powerful hallucinogen.”

You can read his articles at craigbowronmd.com.