Novelist Who Were Also Doctors

It’s interesting how so many famous writers who were also doctors or, in the case of John Keats, medical students. Francois Rabelais, creator of the Gargantua-Pantagruel series was a doctor. As was the 18th Century German poet, Friedrich Schiller. And The Vicar of Wakefield author, Oliver Goldsmith. And A.J. Cronin, and the most influential American poet of the Modernist movement, William Carlos Williams.

Novelists who were medical practitioners have made unique contributions to fiction by adding depth and realism to their work. Their special training in medicine has given them a unique perspective on human life and death, and this can be seen in their fiction. It has allowed them to explore these themes in their novels with a depth that would not normally be possible for writers without medical training. They often have a keen eye for detail and an understanding of medical circumstances and paraphernalia that allows them to create realistic and suspenseful medical scenes. They are able to accurately portray the medical settings and procedures, so common in novels, more convincingly than most writers..

Novelists who were also medical practitioners have a unique perspective on life and death, They often have an understanding of the human body that allows them to create realistic and suspenseful physical predicaments. They can also explore the ethical dilemmas that doctors face, and the emotional toll that their work can take more effectively than those writers without those understandings.

Here are ten of the most famous doctor novelists.


Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (United States, 1809 – 1894)

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was a 19th-century American physician, poet, and essayist. He was known for his wit, humour, and keen observations of human nature. His most famous works include The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858), and The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860). Holmes was also a respected medical practitioner, and he served as dean of the Harvard Medical School from 1847 to 1882. He was a pioneer in the field of anesthesia, and he helped to improve the understanding of puerperal fever. Holmes was a versatile and accomplished writer who made significant contributions to both medicine and literature.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Scotland, 1859 – 1930)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a Scottish writer best known for his detective, Sherlock Holmes. He was also a trained physician and practiced medicine for a few years before turning to writing full-time. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and received his medical degree in 1885 . His medical training and experiences undoubtedly influenced his writing, particularly his Sherlock Holmes stories, which often feature detailed descriptions of medical procedures and diagnoses. Doyle’s work as a writer and medical practitioner made him a significant figure in both the literary and medical worlds. He wrote several novels, which are still widely read.


Anton Chekhov (Russia, 1860 – 1904)

Known for his short stories and plays, Chekhov was also a practicing physician. He is considered one of the greatest short story writers of all time and his medical training at the University of Moscow and his medical experience informed his writing, which often deals with themes of illness and death His characters are often ordinary people who are struggling to cope with difficult circumstances. Chekhov’s writing is characterized by its realism, humour, and compassion. His work has had a major impact on modern literature. He is considered one of the founders of the modern short story. His plays are still widely performed today and resonate with readers around the world.


Somerset Maugham (England, 1874 – 1965)

Somerset Maugham was a British writer who was also a trained medical doctor. He practiced medicine for a few years in Southeast Asia, but eventually gave it up to focus on writing. Maugham’s novels, short stories, and plays are known for their sharp wit, keen observations of human nature, and exotic settings. Some of his most famous works include “Of Human Bondage,” “The Razor’s Edge,” and “The Moon and Sixpence.” Maugham’s experiences as a medical doctor undoubtedly influenced his writing, and his work often explores themes of illness, death, and the human condition.


Boris Pasternak (Russia, 1890 – 1960)

Boris Pasternak was a Russian poet, novelist, and translator. He was born in Moscow in 1890 and studied medicine at the University of Moscow. After graduating, he worked as a doctor for several years, but he eventually gave up medicine to focus on writing. Pasternak’s most famous work is the novel Doctor Zhivago, which was published in 1957. The novel was banned in the Soviet Union, but it was eventually published in the West.  Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958. His other works include the novels Safe Conduct (1931) and The Blind Beauty (1933).

Pasternak’s experiences as a medical practitioner influenced his writing in a number of ways. His knowledge of medicine allowed him to write realistically about medical topics, and his experiences with patients gave him insights into human nature. Pasternak’s writing is also characterized by its lyrical beauty and its exploration of philosophical themes. He was a poet at heart, and his writing always reflects his love of language and his deep understanding of the human condition.


Mikhail Bulgakov (Russia, 1891 – 1940)

Mikhail Bulgakov was a Russian writer and medical doctor. He was born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1891 and died in Moscow, Russia, in 1940. Bulgakov studied medicine at Kyiv University and graduated in 1916. He practiced medicine for a few years, but eventually gave up his medical career to focus on writing. His most famous novel is The Master and Margarita, a satirical take on Soviet society. He also wrote several other novels, plays, and short stories. Bulgakov’s writing is known for its humour, satire, and dark humour.

Here are some additional details about Bulgakov’s medical career:

  • He worked as a surgeon at a hospital in Smolensk, Russia, from 1916 to 1918.
  • He served as a military doctor during the Russian Civil War.
  • He opened a private practice in Kiev in 1921.
  • He gave up his medical career in 1924 to focus on writing.

Bulgakov’s medical training and experiences influenced his writing in a number of ways. For example, his knowledge of medicine allowed him to create realistic and believable medical scenes in his novels. Additionally, his experiences as a doctor gave him a unique perspective on human nature and the world around him, which he often explored in his writing.


Anita Loos (United States, 1893 – 1981)

Anita Loos was an American writer and screenwriter who is best known for her novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925). She was also a trained medical doctor, having graduated from the University of Southern California School of Medicine in 1919. However, she never practiced medicine full-time, instead choosing to focus on her writing career. Loos’s experiences as a medical student and doctor informed her writing, and she often used her medical knowledge in her work. For example, her novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes features a character who is a doctor, and the novel’s plot revolves around a medical scam. Loos’s work as a writer and medical practitioner helped to shape her unique perspective on the world, and her writing continues to resonate with readers today.


Robin Cook (United States, 1940 -)

Robin Cook is a medical doctor and author of best-selling medical thrillers. He is known for his realistic portrayals of medical settings and procedures, which are often based on his own experiences as a doctor. His novels have been translated into over 30 languages and have sold over 80 million copies worldwide. His most famous novels include Coma, Outbreak, and Fever. He has also written several nonfiction books about medicine and public health.

Cook was born in New York City in 1940. He graduated from Wesleyan University and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. After completing his residency in internal medicine, he worked as a doctor for several years. In 1977, he published his first novel, Coma. The novel was a critical and commercial success, and it launched Cook’s career as a best-selling author.

Cook has continued to write best-selling medical thrillers for over 40 years. His novels have been praised for their suspenseful plots, realistic medical details, and social commentary. He is also a vocal advocate for public health and medical research. He has donated millions of dollars to medical charities and research organizations.


Michael Crichton (United States, 1942 – 2008)

Michael Crichton was a best-selling author of science fiction and techno-thrillers. He was also a practicing physician for a time, and his medical training informed his writing. His novels often feature realistic medical and scientific details, and they have been praised for their suspenseful plots and thought-provoking themes. Crichton’s medical background gave him a unique perspective on science and technology, and it helped him to create realistic and suspenseful stories. His novels have been praised by critics and readers alike, and they have had a lasting impact on popular culture.  Some of his most famous works include Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and Sphere. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold over 200 million copies worldwide.


John Irving (United States, 1942 -)

John Irving is an American novelist who has written 15 novels, many of which have been adapted into films. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa School of Medicine, but never practiced medicine. However, his medical training has informed his writing, and many of his novels deal with themes of life, death, and the human body. Irving is a prolific writer who is known for his humour, his large casts of characters, and his complex plots. He is a two-time National Book Award winner and has also won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Despite never practicing medicine, Irving’s medical training has been evident in his writing. For example, his novel The Cider House Rules is about a doctor who runs an orphanage and performs illegal abortions. His novel A Prayer for Owen Meany features a character who is born with a deformed hand. And his novel The World According to Garp includes a scene where a character dies from a rare medical condition.

Overall, John Irving is a talented writer who has used his medical training to add depth and realism to his work.


And this concludes our list of writers who were also doctors. What’s your take on these, any writers who are missing?

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