The Covid Journals: Dispatches From The Front Lines

Writing as Craft in the Time of Covid-19: A weekend digital writing retreat for health practitioners

Led by Dr. Damian Tarnopolsky and Dr. Shane Neilson, experts in the fields of narrative medicine and health humanities, the digital writing retreat provided an opportunity for health practitioners to re-tell the ‘COVID narrative’ from a place of autonomy.

Physician residents Dr. Mona Maleki and Dr. Mei Wen shared their thoughts on their experience at the digital writing retreat: The writing workshop was a phenomenal experience. We were able to take a moment to pause in the midst of our medical training to tap into the creative inside and the beauty of finding the common human experience with other health care providers. It is not often that one gets to experience safe spaces to engage one’s creativity and self-expression. The writing exercises, the facilitation of poetry and the guest speakers were such a constructive and supportive way to grow in our expression and writing. As trainees, the weekend was a reminder of all the other roles we occupy in the world, including our own humanity, and our various connections in our friendships, families etc. before our position as physicians. We are grateful for the opportunity to attend such a wonderful workshop and we hope to take our learning into facilitating spaces of creativity and writing for our fellow residents.

Dr. Mei Wen (left) and Dr. Mona Maleki (right)

The following post comes from “The COVID Journals” website. Please click here to visit the website and learn more.

The coronavirus pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge on all levels of Canadian society. Essential workers on the so-called “front lines” are routinely cited as heroes in newsprint and online, on television broadcasts, and coffee shop signs because they risk developing a severe infection in the course of their daily work. But what is the cost of heroism, and what is it really like to work for the health care workers themselves? What has the actual experience been for doctors, nurses, EMS/ambulance professionals, respiratory technicians, dieticians, spiritual care workers and others in Canada? Has COVID taught us new lessons about self-care and caring for others? How have issues of power and privilege affected your own work and relationships with colleagues, patients and clients during this time?


We wish to learn of COVID stories of all kinds from all over the country to see whether creative and reflective writing by health professionals can help society see the pandemic differently.

The editors seek previously unpublished fiction, micro-fiction/flash, creative non-fiction, memoir, essay, poetry, comics/graphic medicine panels, photography, art, etc. for a collection tentatively scheduled for publication in fall 2021. We welcome contributions from practitioners in ANY health discipline, and particularly from historically and currently under-presented voices. We seek writing from residents of Canada or pieces that focus on the Canadian experience in particular.

Creative and reflective responses to any aspect of the pandemic are invited, from the experience of “front line” work, the nature of virtual appointments, the balance of home and work in the pandemic context, the role of story in the patient experience, narrative -based discussions of ethical questions raised by Coronavirus care, thoughts and hopes for what comes next. We are interested in work that communicates the practitioner’s lived experience with COVID 19 , and takes this opportunity to shape and understand the narrative of pandemic as it happens .

Authors must maintain the confidentiality of patients (if clinical encounters are discussed), also of colleagues and staff. Any creative work inspired by clinical experiences should be free of specific identifiers (e.g. particular places, dates, unique or identifying features, real names of practitioners and patients.)

Please direct previously unpublished submissions (maximum 3000 words or 5 pages poetry/graphics) with a 100-word biographical note to:
by August 30th 2020
For more information , including contractual details, please contact the editors at:

About the editors:

Damian Tarnopolsky PhD teaches creative and reflective writing and narrative medicine in the Health, Arts and Humanities Program at the University of Toronto. An acclaimed writer in many genres, his fiction has been nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Journey Prize, and his play The Defence won the 2019 Voaden Prize. His essays and articles have appeared in The Walrus, Reader’s Digest, Partisan Magazine, and elsewhere, and he recently served as a juror for the Toronto Book Awards. He runs Slingsby and Dixon, an editing company.

Shane Neilson is a disabled poet, physician, and critic who lives in Oakville, Ontario. He completed his PhD in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in 2018. His book, Dysphoria (PQL, 2017) was awarded the Hamilton Literary Award for Poetry in 2018. He is currently completing a postdoctoral position at McMaster supported by a $50,000 ‘Talent” grant awarded by SSHRC in 2018. Other good things to happen to Shane include receiving the Governor General’s Gold Medal for his dissertation work in disability studies and the Regional Dean’s Award for Excellence in Medical Education which was also bestowed for Shane’s championing of disability in McMaster’s medical faculty. He is the festival director of the AbleHamilton Poetry Festival which just successfully completed its second run. Finally, he is also the Poetry Advisor for the Canadian Medical Association Journal where he actively works to include poems by disabled writers. His poems appeared in Poetry Magazine in April of this year. Work from his latest book, New Brunswick, has appeared on Verse Daily.

Allan Peterkin MD is a Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at the University of Toronto, where he heads The Program In Health, Arts and Humanities ( He is the author/editor of 14 books on medical humanities, narrative medicine, physician health, cultural history and human sexuality. Over 20 years, Dr Peterkin co-led a therapeutic writing group for men and women living with HIV, with occupational therapist, Julie Hann. This work resulted in an acclaimed collection of patient narratives called  “STILL HERE-A POST-COCKTAIL AIDS ANTHOLOGY.”


The COVID Journals is Supported by: