fb-pixel Skip to main content
Story Behind the Book

Creative writing skills inform the work of an ER doctor

David Wilson for The Boston Globe

As a kid on Long Island, Jay Baruch’s first passion was books. He would take his allowance down to Oscar’s Bookstore, in Huntington, where Oscar himself sold Baruch his favorite books, cheap paperback Signet editions of Jules Verne’s classic adventure stories.

Baruch tried to write his own fiction, influenced by Verne, but self-consciousness held him back. “It was hard for me to liberate myself to write,” he said.

It wasn’t until college, where he majored in English, that another career path beckoned: a volunteer opportunity in a local hospital led Baruch to medicine. These days, he’s an ER doctor in Providence — and he’s also a writer, with two short story collections, and now a volume of essays, “Tornado of Life” (MIT Press), which recounts true stories of what goes on in his busy, big city emergency department.


Stories, Baruch argues, are the key to it all. “Sometimes in medicine we ignore the complexity of patients’ stories,” he said. But, he added, it’s important for clinicians to learn to listen, lean in to the uncertainty, and try to understand what each patient is going through.

Baruch is convinced that “borrowing from my life as a creative writer and taking those skills to the bedside” makes him a better doctor. “As writers, as artists, we embrace the messiness. The messiness, the problems, that’s a place to start. That’s where inquiry begins,” he said.

“The book came out of the sense that the challenges I and my colleagues faced were not always about broken bodies,” Baruch said. “The parts that really troubled us were these quieter moments, when we were at a loss of how to respond to these complex, difficult, vulnerable stories.”

Jay Baruch will read in person at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, at Harvard Book Store.