By Kate Wilson, Senior Medical Writer, Ward 6. Kate has been a drummer, recording and touring in bands for over 20 years.
So why would a drummer make a good medical writer? Well, drummers are very good at counting to four, so that really helps in referencing shorter pieces. Most of us do love a joke and there are a lot out there at our expense! It’s said that it takes a creative mind to appreciate humour, and it also takes a creative mind to be a good medical writer.
Medical writers are problem solvers and it’s our job to find the most interesting and compelling ways to present data, speak to patients and clinicians, and produce clear and balanced copy, all while working within constraints, which include codes of conduct, word limits, and brand guidelines. This is a creative challenge, and some of the best work we do results from outside-the-box thinking.
A recent, ground-breaking study (Rosen DS et al. 2020) asked jazz guitarists to improvise a piece of music while researchers scanned their brains to look at regions of activity. At the same time, the musicians were rated on the creativity of their pieces by a panel of experts.
Traditionally, we call creative people “right-brained”, while logic and skills we practice are the domain of the left hemisphere of the brain. That’s why researchers were surprised to initially find the most creative pieces in their study were linked to higher left-brain activity.
It was only when the researchers adjusted their data to account for the experience of each musician, taking this away as a confounding variable, they found what they expected to see - nearly all of the differences in brain activity between the more- and less-creative musical interpretations were seen in the right hemisphere of the brain.
Theologians believe creativity is a gift from God, philosophers have committed thousands of words debating from whence inspiration springs, and countless psychologists have analysed its parentage. Now that neuroscientists have entered the fray, they have enhanced our understanding of creativity with a new, functional definition. While the definition of creativity as a nebulous, intrinsic, right-brained phenomenon is still valid, John Kounios, study co-author states:
“If creativity is defined as the quality of a product, then the left hemisphere [of the brain] plays a key role”
While the right-brain differences in the adjusted results do show some musicians have an innate capacity to think more creatively than others, the fact the powerful influence the left-brain had on creativity initially subsumed and hid this correlation, tells us people who have more practice being creative are more likely to produce a more creative product.
Aristotle didn’t have the benefit of an EEG machine when he made the same observation on creativity:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”
Musicians and other people who are involved in creative pursuits are habitually used to flexing their creative muscle. Songwriting is the obvious example, but musicians also often find themselves in unfamiliar locations and situations, interacting with a wide variety of different people. Playing drums and medical writing may seem worlds apart, but being adept and practiced at improvising, thinking on your feet, collaborating, and generating an array of potential solutions to any problem at hand is key to success in both fields.
Ward 6 has always been a very accommodating workplace for people with creative interests. Alongside musicians, the agency boasts staff members with accomplishments in fields as diverse as visual art, creative writing, photography, and fashion design, who bring their creative experience to work every day.
Citation: Rosen DS et al. Neuroimage 2020;213:116632. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116632.