Side hustle: How this GP turned her love of writing into a complementary career

Ben Falkenmire

writer

Ben Falkenmire

Writer

Ben Falkenmire

Exhausted by full time GP work, Linda’s carved out a dual career as a medical writer

Some may know her as the author behind Diary of a GP, a monthly column published by The Medical Republic.

There Dr Linda Calabresi calls on decades of GP experience to address issues close to GPs’ hearts, like how to deal with a troubling mental health patient, how do we get more medical graduates interested in general practice, and the controversy around talking to a patient about their weight.

For Linda, who works as a GP in Sydney’s North Ryde, the diary is not simply a jotting down of a few thoughts in between patients. It is a culmination of over 20 years of experience working as a GP and as writer in the medical publishing world, where she has written for AusDoc, the AJGP, Medical Observer, Healthshare, and now Healthed and The Medical Republic.

The reason she has kept one foot rooted in the medical publishing world for so long is simple: the people. It’s the camaraderie with her publishing colleagues that Linda relishes most, a feature she says is often missing from general practice.

“Being a GP is an isolating profession. I can see 30 patients in a day, but I won’t have had that personal talk or chat with anybody, and you rarely have a conversation with other doctors. You just don’t have time,” Linda says.

“I loved the office environment when I first started in publishing. I like working in a team with young writers and editors. It’s nice to be in a profession where you can chat to other people.”

A surprise fork in the road

The medical publishing work came about almost serendipitously.

One of two practices she was working in closed down in the late 90s, when GP vacancies were rarer than they are today, and a job ad caught her eye. It was for a medical news editor role at AusDoc.

“I always enjoyed English and writing, but I can’t say it was a real hobby of mine. I got into medicine back in the days when it was only marks that got you in. My best results were in English and art,” Linda says.

“So, I thought I’d give the job a go. I was very lucky and got the job. It was just so lovely and different. People at AusDoc would say, aren’t the deadlines stressful, but I would tell them having a patient in general practice is far more stressful. It didn’t keep me awake at night like general practice does.”

Transitioning to a new field was not without its challenges. Luckily for Linda, she found people at AusDoc willing to teach her about what kind of stories constituted news and how to develop a nose for news.

“I was working with brilliant people who set the high bar. They were real news hounds and had a real love for it,” she says. “I was very lucky.”

The benefits of still being a GP

Linda slotted into working three days at AusDoc and two at her general practice. It’s a weekly balance she has maintained for over two decades.

“I couldn’t imagine doing full-time GP work. I found it too demanding and exhausting. My hat goes off to GPs who work full time, my husband being one of them.”

“Being a GP keeps me real. When you think: what have I achieved today? It’ll always be in general practice. It’s got the reward and satisfaction of actually helping people,” says Linda.

Her life as a GP also enables her to set the right tone in articles.

“I don’t let anything go out that says: doctors should do this, or doctors are well placed to do this. GPs are sick of being told what we should do. I wouldn’t say it’s easy what I write about – but writing to GPs is very familiar. I just write as I talk.”

 

Linda’s tips for budding writers

1. Give it a go and don’t underestimate what you have got to offer the reading world
2. Start by approaching newspapers to write opinion pieces. “Newspapers will grab it, if you want to write that story of thing. News reporting is a little different and is a process you have to get into,” Linda says.
3. For topics to write about, Linda says: “In general practice there is always something of interest – be it the medicine or the patients themselves.”
4. Don’t give up your GP job to write as there are not many writing jobs out there. “If someone wants to write, start by submitting some case studies – you will have plenty of material.”

Illustration by Victoria Nelson for TMR.

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Ben Falkenmire

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