Medical Geneticist Dr. Robert Marion on Writing

Medical Geneticist Dr. Robert Marion on Writing

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted August 18, 2009 in Books About DNA, Personalities with DNA

genetic rounds robert marion Dr. Robert Marion’s latest book, Genetic Rounds, will be published in October. I had the pleasure of reviewing the book yesterday and this week will be sharing an email interview of Dr. Marion touching on medical writing, medical genetics, and the genome revolution.


Dr. Marion, your writing is an inspiration to me and countless other science and medical writers. Can you tell us about your life as a writer and give some advice to those of us involved in science communication?

Thank you for the kind words.  I’ve been interested in medical genetics and medical writing since college.  For the former of these interests, after getting my MD degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1979, I did a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in medical genetics at that same institution, and then joined its faculty.  So, I’ve been at Einstein for more than 34 years!  To me, that’s pretty amazing!

My writing career has paralleled my medical career.  My first book, "Born Too Soon", a novel about my first month of internship in pediatrics, was written during my senior residency year and published during my fellowship.  "Genetic Rounds" is my seventh published book, and through the years, I’ve also had many essays and short stories published in both medical journal, such as the Genetic Drift section of the American Journal of Medical Genetics, and lay magazines, such as Discover magazine and Reader’s Digest.

I don’t see these two careers as competitive; rather, they are complementary.  From early on, I found that writing about my encounters with patients and their families helps me better understand my motivation in the clinic.  So first and foremost, my writing is self-help for me: the essays that are collected in "Genetic Rounds" serve as psychotherapy for me.

But the writing is more than that.  The field of genetics is exploding.  One can’t read a newspaper or watch a TV news magazine without encountering an article about a mutation or a polymorphism in a particular gene that prevents the individual from needing to sleep more than four hours a day (today’s particular article) or some related issue.  People are interested in knowing about the human side of these discoveries, about the individuals behind the basic science.  As clinical geneticists, we are privileged to see extremely rare and unusual conditions, disorders whose basis might hold the key to an important and universal discovery.  As writers, it is our responsibility to be able to report on these compelling individuals. 

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