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Behind the scenes: what it’s like to be a junior author for the OHCM

To mark the release of the much anticipated 11th edition of the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (OHCM), Oxford University Press spoke with the three new authors of this edition: Peter Hateley, a GP based in New Zealand; Dearbhla Kelly, a Critical Care Medicine fellow in Oxford; and Iain McGurgan, a Neurology Resident in Switzerland. The author team shared their experiences of writing the world’s best-selling medical handbook.

How did you get involved with being a junior author for OHCM?

PH: I’d done some medical editing and journalism while at medical school. I really enjoy teaching and, in particular, the place where teaching meets writing. I loved reading the OHCM while at medical school, so I threw myself at the chance when I saw an advert online to be a junior author.

DK: I read a tweet from a previous author whom I greatly admire, in which she promoted the opportunity and described what a positive experience it had been for her. Like Pete, I also needed little encouragement as the OHCM holds a special place in my heart as the talisman of my (very) junior doctor days.

IMG: The OHCM is an institution that carried me through medical school and beyond; I couldn’t resist when I saw the call for applications! Funnily, Dearbhla and I worked in the same service at the time, but we didn’t clock that we had both applied until we had made the final cut many months later, when we asked one another to cover a shift at the exact same day and time (the final interview).

What were the best things about your experience as an OHCM author?

PH: Working towards a book that provided so much enjoyment (and frantic revision material) for me personally, and for many more internationally. I had particular fun writing some of the more creative parts of the OHCM; as is the tradition, the book is peppered with asides that encourage thinking about the world from the patient’s perspective. The team at OHCM have been brilliant, a great source of support and knowledge throughout the process.

DK: I enjoyed getting to add new sections or pages that I vividly recall searching for in vain during my time as an intern! It was also a very educational and enriching experience to read the literature and guidelines across such a range of medical specialties. I too am grateful for the kindness and patience of all the senior authors and OHCM publishing team.

IMG: The opportunity to work alongside and learn from such an incredible team (co-authors, senior authors, specialist readers, junior readers, editors, and the publishing team at OUP). I had (and still have) a great deal of imposter syndrome!

And what were the most challenging parts?

PH: As with most of our readers, we had the challenge of the pandemic and its aftermath to juggle alongside our other clinical work. This left our writing on the back burner for a while, and some updated guidelines to read on our return! It’s been a fun challenge reducing each topic to be most useful and relevant to our readers.

DK: Balancing pertinent detail with succinctness/word count limits! As Pete acknowledges, the pandemic-sized interruption in the middle of our writing created some challenges in terms of keeping the writing up to date since the nature of evidence-based medicine and best clinical practice is so dynamic.

IMG: Keeping the H in the OHCM! The temptation was always to add more and more material. I learned that it’s so much easier to write than remove.

How did you manage to juggle writing with your clinical work, studies, and home life?

PH: With great difficulty! All my time planning went out of the window with the pandemic (the best-laid schemes of mice and men…). Making time for writing alongside exams led to a few long evenings of writing. It’s been a good lesson on balancing work and life a little better, and a reminder of the value of supportive family, friends, and colleagues!

DK: I am still looking for some suggestions! For me, it was forgiving family, friends, and colleagues.

IMG: My experiences were identical to those of Pete and Dearbhla above. Sleep was the ball the most frequently dropped for me. I felt it was too hypocritical to add a sleep hygiene section to the book, so that will have to wait until the 12th edition and a better time-managing author than me.

What tips would you pass on to aspiring Handbook authors?

PH: In our digital age, information is often already there to be searched but can be dry to read. I’d suggest considering: how will my writing help people to really remember that information? More importantly, how will I incorporate the human, empathic core of being a doctor? I think the OHCM does that really well.

DK: Perfection is the enemy of good! The expert feedback of the specialist reviewers is also such a helpful and practical resource when wading through the waters of an unfamiliar medical specialty.

IMG: I tried to review my work as if I were reading it for the first time, frantically poring over every word on a trembling page on the eve of exam, or hiding out of sight of the ward round to assimilate some knowledge that I ought to have had already! This helped me to keep it (I hope) relevant, reliable, and readable.

Featured image by Free-Photos via Pixabay.

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