Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Steven E. Wilson, the author of The Making, Breaking and Renewal of a Surgeon-Scientist.
FQ: Your fiction has drawn a great deal of fans and awards. What motivated you to write this book in regards to your own experiences?
WILSON: The episodes at the University of Washington School of Medicine detailed in this book changed the course of my career, even though I was not one of the physicians charged by federal prosecutors. I felt I had to write about what happened there so physicians and non-physicians alike would know what really occurred during that terrible time. I actually wrote 95% of this book in 2006, three years after I left the University of Washington, but decided to not publish it at that time because the experiences were still too fresh. Waiting that decade to finish the book gave it much more perspective with regards to my career and the physicians directly affected by the Medicare scandal.
FQ: What is the one thing you hope will come about from people reading this book and learning about real-life travesties of justice that very real people are/were faced with?
WILSON: It is my hope that other physicians will read this as a cautionary tale about what can happen to well-meaning practitioners while practicing medicine in the new more complex environment we find ourselves immersed in. I hope non-physicians will gain a better understanding of what it takes to become a physician and to excel in ones subspecialty in medicine. It really is a hard, hard road.
FQ: Are you interested in writing non-fiction in the future?
WILSON: Perhaps, but I hope not about my own life! I’m hopeful the remainder of my days in medicine are not filled with the turmoil and angst that is a significant part of this book.
FQ: Can you offer a slice of advice to those new writers out there when it comes to the differences you experienced between creating fiction as opposed to non-fiction?
WILSON: They are both so very different. Both take a lot of research, but the fiction requires much more imagination and attention to character and plot development. I enjoyed both but there is a special place in my heart for fiction.
FQ: Your resume is a long one. Out of all the places you have been and worked – from Whittier, CA to the LSU Eye Center and beyond, is there one place that you always look back on as being a perfect or, at least, a close-to-perfect place to work? Where the system and the people were just a joy to be around?
WILSON: I very much enjoy where I work now—at the Cole Eye Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, but I will always look back at the three years I spent in residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota as a magical time. There were a lot of very special people there who taught me to be an eye surgeon and what it meant to be an ophthalmologist. That’s why that chapter is titled “A Bright, Shining Star.” But LSU Eye Center in New Orleans, where I did my fellowship in cornea, external disease and refractive surgery was also very special. I met many of my best friends in ophthalmology and vision research there and loved the two years I lived in New Orleans.
FQ: Is teaching the up-and-comers in the medical industry a true personal gift when it comes to helping those intelligent minds move forward in their career? Do you like being a mentor?
WILSON: Yes, it has been one of the highlights of my career. Many of my trainees are like sons and daughters to me. Several have also become leaders in refractive surgery, especially in Brazil, where about fifteen MDs who have worked in my laboratory and clinics have come from to spend two to three years in training. Seeing them succeed has brought me great joy.
FQ: What is the focus and hopeful solutions that your laboratory works on every day to bring about?
WILSON: The studies in my lab have focused on growth factor and cytokine control of wound healing over the past 29 years. Recently, the majority of our work has been on scarring in the cornea that causes loss of vision after injuries, infections and some surgeries. We have found that injuries to the epithelial basement membrane and Descemet’s basement membrane in the cornea are major factors in the development of scar-producing cells called myofibroblasts in the cornea and that repair or regeneration of these basement membranes facilitates disappearance of the scars. These findings are important to scarring in the corneas of hundreds of thousands of patients throughout the world and will hopefully lead to new and better treatments to prevent and treat corneal scarring.
FQ: Could you tell us if there are more fiction titles coming out in the future? Or, what you are working on now as an author?
WILSON: I’m thinking about writing another fiction centered on my protagonist Stone Waverly’s early career in the CIA in an adventure in Afghanistan involving Commander Ahmed Massoud, The Lion of Panjsher, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I’ve always been fascinated by his life and at present I am reading everything I can get my hands on that relates to him.
Thank you so much for opening your world and life for others to better understand the problems out there. All the best to you, in your future books and endeavors.