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August 1, 1999
A Wish to Inspire: the doctor writes a new prescription

photo: J. Kevin Shushtari

Twenty-five years ago on a sweltering August day, I left home for college, planning to prepare for a career as a writer. I studied literature, philosophy, and history, thinking these disciplines would prepare me well for my chosen profession. My passion was fiction, namely short stories. After college, with a solid liberal arts degree, I worked as a carpenter and a landscaper, and every manuscript I submitted for publication was returned to me.

Along the way I learned that life does not often work according to plan. And although my respect and love for writing never left me, a tremendous compassion for people, something I believe my parents instilled in me from an early age, grew. I had never taken a science course in college but I continued taking courses after graduation and was inspired to follow in the footsteps of my father, eventually entering medical school and specializing in Internal Medicine. Over the years I have worked as a primary-care internist, an emergency room physician, a palliative care specialist, a hospitalist, a nursing home doctor and, most recently, as a physician-entrepreneur.

During some initial meetings for last year, a corporate executive asked me seriously, as a doctor, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Without hesitation I responded that one of my goals was to become a writer. Although my answer appeared to shock him, he observed that a man with dreams was a good bet, and he eventually elected to support the new venture, an e-commerce healthcare company that offers an online pharmacy.

Why the Internet? Because it is the new frontier, and I have always been a maverick of sorts, hard-working and adventurous, never satisfied that anything is the best it can be. Also because the Internet is ubiquitous and offers a medium accessible to nearly everyone. And finally, because it will allow me, through words, to help people in ways I never dreamed until I practiced medicine: by offering inspiration and hope to those who suffer, be it from a chronic condition, an acute illness, or an emotional crisis.

My column for Rx.magazine will draw from my experiences as a physician, as a father, a husband, a son, and a brother. I will also draw from my own battle (and it is a battle) with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, a chronic condition I developed three years ago which forced me to give up my hectic pace and to confront my own limitations. Previously, I had never been seriously ill and had never taken even a single sick-day. But I have learned to live with the condition and have even re-established myself as a competitive middle-distance runner. I can't go as fast as I used to, but I'm out there every day pounding the pavement.

As I think back to that August day when I left for college, I remember well my hopes and dreams. When my father pressed me after graduation about how I planned to make a living with a liberal arts degree, I said I still planned a career as a writer. "You are such a dreamer," he said with affection. I have never told my father, but that was one of the best compliments anyone has ever given me. And I believe it is this very quality that has led me to try and fill this unique role that combines medicine and writing: a doctor who has the chance to inspire people, with words, to be an active participant in their own healthcare.

 J. Kevin Shushtari, M.D., is's Chief Medical Officer and a co-founder of the company. He is also a board-certified internist with a medical degree from Dartmouth College. In Dr. Kevin's Column he will share his own experiences as a physician, a family member, and a patient.