Having dropped out of a fiction-writing program to attend medical school 30 years ago, Jim Bailey has returned to storytelling. The End of Healing combines his life-long love for literature, history, and ethics with his deep knowledge of the experiences of patients and physicians within our broken healthcare system. Jim is professor of medicine and preventive medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, and his research appears in many peer-reviewed medical journals. In his free time he enjoys running, hiking, and backpacking.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The End of Healing. When did you start writing and what got you into fiction?
After studying the great books at St. John’s College I dreamed of writing the next great American novel. But then my graduate fiction-writing teacher told me I needed to write about what I knew and I didn’t seem know much of anything. At that point, medical school seemed like the easier option. Twenty years later, in 2003, I started writing The End of Healing as a work of narrative non-fiction. When my spouse, who is also my editor, told me I was writing fiction — and suggested I’d better stop because it would take me forever — my first reaction was denial. I assured her that I was, in fact, writing creative non-fiction. As usual, though, she was right. It was over a full year later, in 2004, I realized that I was writing fiction — and that filled me with terror. I couldn’t write fiction. That had already been determined. But despite my despair, The End of Healing was a compulsion for me, and I wrote nearly every day from 2004 until its publication. I wrote and wrote and edited and edited and learned the art of story telling over the last ten years because I had to do so. The story needed to be told. And it is a story you need to hear.
What is your book about?
The End of Healing is about a heroic young physician’s quest to follow the money into the dark underworld of a corrupt healthcare industry, discover how his patients are being victimized for profit, and find a way to be a true healer in today’s world. It is also a healthcare industry exposé. Dr. Don Newman pulls back the exam room curtain to reveal giant healthcare industries spiraling out of control and takes the reader on a dangerous undercover investigation through a hidden world of corruption and despair to find true healing.
My inspiration came on 9–11, my birthday, when I realized that as bad as the twin towers disaster was, healthcare was worse. I knew that a 747 planeload of people were being killed by medical mistakes every day and no one was doing anything about it. To the contrary – many were profiting from it. And the public was oblivious of the danger. People mindlessly look to hospitals as their great temples of hope and healing, when in fact they are the most dangerous places of all. As a physician and healthcare researcher I knew that I could write dozens of journal articles every year in the best medical journals and it wouldn’t open the minds and hearts of the American people to understand where true healing comes from. I knew then that I needed to tell a story.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
I hope that The End of Healing will open the eyes, minds, and hearts of my readers and encourage them to take charge of their health and healthcare resources. I hope that it will help stop the unnecessary suffering caused by our hospital and sickness-focused healthcare system, eliminate the needless waste of lives and dollars spent on unnecessary care that isn’t really care at all, and help people see what a real healing healthcare system would look like. We could get so much more for the $2.3 trillion dollars we spend each year on healthcare. I hope my readers will be fascinated and empowered by The End of Healing. I hope that it arms my readers with the understanding they need to pass safely through the maze of modern medicine, take charge of their own health, demand the health care they deserve, and help remake our broken healthcare system.
Did your book require a lot of research?
The End of Healing required a tremendous amount of research. Fortunately, in my career as a physician and professor, I’ve spent over two decades studying health systems improvement and healthcare quality. I have access to the best researchers in America and worldwide. However, my most important teachers are my patients. Caring for the critically ill and listening to their stories and experiences of the healthcare system was of paramount importance in writing this book. As my young protagonist learns, in order to learn how to improve American healthcare, first we have to listen to the patients.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
By starting with an entire story arc or at least the heart of a great story that is really exciting to me. Without that kind of story in my heart that needs to be told I know my narrative will never be exciting for my readers. How can you expect a story to be exciting for others if it isn’t exciting to you? So I started with a story that needed to be told. A story I had to tell because it burned to be let out. Then the real work begins to craft it, shape it, and perfect it to make it exciting for others.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
Writing is hard. And it is hard to balance writing fiction with my already difficult work schedule as a physician, teacher and researcher so I have to be very disciplined. Early in my writing of The End of Healing I told a good friend and mentor of my despair and deep concern that I would never finish the book I had started. I still remember his advice. He said to just write a little bit every day. Set a schedule. Make a plan to fit a little writing into each day’s work and in time your effort will add up. So I followed his advice. Almost every day for the last 10 years I got up early in the morning while the rest of the house was asleep and wrote for at least 30 minutes but most often for an hour or two. And lo and behold, I discovered that my dear friend — who has since passed on — was right. The writing did add up.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
My website is EndofHealing.com and I have a blog at TheHealthyCity.org. Interested readers can find lots of supplemental material, reading group discussion guides, and information about upcoming events at EndofHealing.com.
Where is your book available?
It’s available in bookstores (ask your local bookseller to order it through the Ingram catalog); Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and is available as an eBook on Kindle, iBook, Nook, and Kobo.
Anything else you’d like to tell your readers?
I was able to write The End of Healing because it grew out of my own experience and it was a story I needed to tell. Whether you are writing a PhD dissertation or a poem, great writing begins with careful choice of your subject. You have to write about something that you care about -– something that you care about a lot — or it will never resonate and you will never be able to finish. When it comes to great writing you can never keep up your focus and dedication to the task unless it is a task that matters, a story that matters. Look for the story matters most in your life. That is the one you should aim to share.
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