Interview with Doctor-Author Ilene Wong aka I.W. Gregorio

by Jen Barna MD | Life Journey, Physician Side Gig, Podcast

“You know, I would yell at a diabetic patient who, for instance, was not taking their insulin. But why would I not grant myself that same grace?” -Dr Ilene Wong

In today’s episode Jen sits down with Dr. Ilene Wong, also known as author I.W. Gregorio. Dr. Wong is a practicing urologist and the author of two young adult novels, None of the Above and This is My Brain in Love. Tune in to hear how she balances medicine and writing novels with her family life, and how you can get started on your own path toward being a published author.

Dr. Ilene Wong M.D. F.A.C.S. received her undergraduate degree from University of Pennsylvania, and medical school degree from Yale University School of Medicine. She completed her urology residency at Stanford University. You can currently find her at Midlantic Urology.

You can also find Dr. Wong’s blog here and on Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram: @iwgregorio. You can find an article on Dr. Wong and one of her favorite Independent bookstores here. Organization Dr. Wong mentions in the podcast episode: InterACT

Excerpts from the show:

“I grew up in a pretty isolated area. I was a voracious reader of books. I always like to say that books were my best friends growing up and really shaped who I was and what I value. You know, ever since that first short story that we wrote in second grade that was mimeographed and put in a little collection I always wanted to be a writer. So I was always involved in writing clubs and reading. Obviously reading a lot and writing thinly veiled pastiches of my favorite stories. But it was around high school where I was kind of like, all I’m writing is just a copy of what I’ve read. And so I need more life experience to write, and that’s when I sort of realized that I was good in math and science, and medicine is a really great field to learn and to meet people and to hear stories. So in college, I double majored in English and biochemistry, which is a relatively rare combination, but it worked for me because I was able to dig deep and take a lot of writing classes but I was also able to fill the credits to become pre-med and I really loved the idea at that point of synthesizing medicine.” -Dr. Ilene Wong

I took a medicine and literature course early on and read the works of Sherwin Nuland and Richard Selzer, and people don’t know that Chekhov, for instance, was a physician. So was William Carlos Williams, the poet. So there’s a long history of physicians also being humanitarians and writers and that’s how I approached it. I approached it as being given the privilege of telling people stories not only based on my clinical experiences but also sort of based as like, from the doctors unique perspective within humanity. I kept on after undergrad. I studied a little more creative writing and then I went to medical school and I continued writing throughout. I’ve written op-eds about topics like AIDS in Africa, or I’ve done features on some of my more amazing patients. I did one in the San Francisco Chronicle when I was a resident about a quadruple amputee that I met during my cardiac surgery rotation. He was also a rock bassist. I think that I’ve never really seen the two as different. And then my very first young adult novel None of the Above was directly inspired by a patient experience that I had that really changed me and that was sort of that index patient that makes you rethink your relationship to medicine and to the world, and that also inspired me to sort of almost become an activist when it comes to supporting the lives of intersex children who are born neither male nor female but something in between and are often subjected to interventions and surgeries they never consented to.” -Dr. Ilene Wong

I think that my writing has given me the permission to slow down a bit. I think that in my early years I was really focused on productivity. I felt this need to just do as much as I could and I think that in the past few years I’ve given myself the permission to ask more. Lliterally just ask patients, ‘How are you doing?’ Especially because This is My Brain in Love is more about mental health and during a pandemic it’s really important to assess how people’s lives are outside of this tiny sliver of time that you see them in your clinic. Because if a person’s family life or social life is in a position where they can’t care for themselves that’s going to really affect how you treat them.” -Dr. Ilene Wong

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