Claire McCarthy ’84 knew she wanted to be a doctor by the time she was 9 or 10 years old. But she also grew up in a family of writers — professional authors, letter and diary writers, people who loved books. So when, as a medical resident, she began crafting vignettes about some of her experiences with patients, she did not think it was anything out of the ordinary. “I never really thought about it as something I would do professionally,” she says. “I just thought it was something everybody did.”
McCarthy’s father encouraged her to submit the pieces to magazines, and those vignettes ended up in print, first in the Boston Globe Magazine and later in a book, Learning How the Heart Beats: The Making of a Pediatrician, published in 1995. Since then, McCarthy has continued to write, both for general audiences and the medical community. She currently writes one blog for Boston.com, MD Mama; another for Boston Children’s Hospital, where she serves on the medical communications team; and contributes periodically to The Huffington Post.
Writing remains a part-time occupation: McCarthy devotes about three-quarters of her working hours to her practice as a primary-care pediatrician, and she teaches pediatrics as well. But she views writing as an important component of her work.
“The reality is that people go online for their health information,” McCarthy says, so it helps to be able to “meet people where they are.” A mother of five, she often uses the experiences of her own children (with their permission) as an entry point for larger discussions of health and wellness.
McCarthy encourages doctors who feel comfortable writing blogs and op-eds to share their expertise, but she also realizes that it’s not for everyone. Recently, she has been talking with researchers at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society about ways to explore how people use the Web in healthcare, how they evaluate material, and how they make decisions — information that she hopes will help the next generation of physician-writers.
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