Colleen Farrell, MD
Resident Physician
Internal Medicine NYU 
Bellevue Hospital

“Gender Disparities in Medical Trainee Confidence:
An Interdisciplinary Perspective”

Tell us about your Rudin experience.
I was a Rudin Fellow during my internal medicine internship. Internship is a notoriously grueling year, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like doing the fellowship while also being an intern. What I found was that the project worked synergistically with the demands of internship. My Rudin mentor and the writing itself helped me keep perspective on why I went into medicine and what’s important to me personally. Conversely, while in the hospital, I often found myself reflecting on my experiences as they related to my Rudin project. Overall, the Rudin Fellowship was an incredibly rewarding experience.

What was your topic?
I researched and wrote about gender disparities in medical trainee confidence. As a medical student, I was told time and again to project more confidence. I was really skeptical of this feedback. It prompted me to question why medical training places such a high value on confidence and how confidence is gendered. The goal of my project was to review the literature of confidence in medical trainees and write a narrative essay that related these findings to my personal experiences.

Who was your mentor? 
I worked primarily with Bradley Lewis, MD, PhD, who writes and teaches at the interface of medicine, humanities, and cultural studies. Brad is an incredible listener and thinker. In our meetings, he would hear in my accounts of medical training larger philosophical and cultural questions. Our conversations spanned far beyond my Rudin topic, and were instrumental in my intellectual development.

What was the research experience like?
Sometimes exciting, sometimes boring, always educational. I chose this project to try out a different genre of writing than I’d been doing in medical school, when my writing was deeply personal. With my Rudin Project I tried to blend story with data and theory, so I spent a good chunk of time doing a literature review and writing up study findings. Along the way, I realized I don’t love doing that kind of writing. That was an important thing for me to figure out. It’s impossible to find your way as a writer without trying out forms or styles that don’t quite work. I’ve learned that as a writer, I’m most drawn to writing very personal essays.

How did the Fellowship impact your role as a physician and a writer? 
The Rudin Fellowship solidified for me that creative writing is central to what I want to do in my career and life. It helped me realize I have a lot I want to say. As a physician, delving into the messy parts of my own story has helped me be a better listener and more fully present to my patients.

What publications and professional invitations came out of it? 
On the topic of confidence specifically, I’m still working on a publication. I’ve had two versions of my essay on confidence rejected (first by NEJM, then JAMA) but that’s just part of the process. I’m now reworking the essay on confidence, stepping away from data and theory, and really interrogating my own personal experience.
The Rudin Fellowship was definitely an impetus to pursue other writing projects as well.While a Rudin Fellow I published a personal essay in JAMA Internal Medicine about becoming depressed as a medical student. A lot of people reached out to me after I published that essay, including Dr. Emily Silverman, creator and host of the Nocturnists, which is an incredible live storytelling event and podcast. When the Nocturnists came to New York, I told a story on stage, which will be featured on the upcoming seasons of the podcast. I’ve also been asked to speak on panels about mental health in medical training, on the Doctors Who Create podcast, and the Core IM podcast. 

What are you working on currently?

I’ve lately been putting a lot of time and energy into a Twitter chat I launched in January called Medical Humanities Chat (@medhumchat). For each chat, I choose poetry and/or prose related to a specific theme. I share discussion questions on Twitter, and people respond in real time. Afterwards, I write up a synopsis of the chat with a few stand out comments. These synopses also double as discussion guides that I like to use with my teams in the hospital to bring medical humanities to our day-to-day practice. The chats are really fun and rewarding. There’s a real sense of community in the discussions.

I’m also working on a scholarly paper with a former patient of mine and Katie Grogan, who co-directs the Rudin Fellowship, on the role of creative expression in addiction treatment and recovery. I have a few personal essays which are (slowly) coming to fruition. All that said, my biggest project at the moment is my residency training.

Recommended Reads