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UAB physician turned novelist: Creativity an important part of medicine

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BIRMINGHAM, AL -

Stephen Russell, M.D., strongly believes creativity is an important aspect of medicine, so much so that he teaches his students to use art to enhance their skills as physicians. 

The associate professor in the UAB School of Medicine Division of General Internal Medicine entered the study of medicine as a college student mostly from a liberal arts background. Russell's fascination with history and the impact people made on history gave him a deep appreciation for the arts, reading — and writing. 

"For me, writing has a lot of the same creativity that is required in medicine," said Russell, who practices internal medicine and pediatrics at UAB Health Center Moody. "It's finding new ways to deal with challenges around me. There's a connection between what I write, what I do from a teaching standpoint and what I do from a professional standpoint. Because I'm a physician, and wanted to write about a physician, and I wanted it to be realistic as well." 

Russell has spent the past 10 years using writing as an outlet from the daily stresses that life brings, which has given him the opportunity to birth and explore the fates of many characters, including Cooper "Mackie" McKay. The reveals into McKay's life begin Feb. 12, when Blue Jay Media Group releases "Blood Money," the first of Russell's three novels scheduled to be published. The books follow the life of McKay, a retired orthopedic surgeon who often finds himself wrapped up in issues with international implications. 

"Writing and journaling have helped me process a lot of difficult medical situations," Russell said. "Writing fiction has been a way for me to expand that and to think about possibilities. What would happen if the person did this in a medical situation? What would happen if this person had a certain patient interaction and had to respond to that? That's given me a lot more leeway to explore those possibilities without having to compromise patient privacy or my own thoughts about what I might do in a certain situation." 

"Blood Money" shows McKay at his best and worst. He has recently lost his wife, and is somewhat estranged from his daughter. It is the beginning of a tough road for a character who is independent and strong but winds up involved in a situation that is not his choosing. 

Russell relied heavily on his philosophy as a physician to create McKay, the characters around him and their stories. 

"Understanding a person's medical history is best understood by understanding their story, the narrative of their life, the narrative of how disease has affected them and that pathway that they're on," Russell said. "As a writer, I try to pull that into my characters — to give them a narrative that is believable, not just a two-dimensional person who is trying to save the world, but a person who has his own struggles and challenges both with the immediate issue that's going on and in the world around him. We all have issues we try to work through and still try to do the job we have before us. That's been a fun challenge for me as a writer — to take some of those universal themes and plug them into a fictional setting." 

A release party for "Blood Money" is scheduled for Feb. 12 at Cantina Grill in Pepper Place, and a book-signing is scheduled Feb. 19 at Little Professor Book Center in Homewood. Preorders will be available at Barnes & Noble and in the iTunes bookstore. Paperback books will be available at Little Professor in Homewood and can be ordered from Amazon.com upon the book's release. 

Visit Russell's website and follow him on Twitter to learn more about his books, including the scheduled summer release of "Command and Control." 

INFORMATION SOURCE: University of Alabama at Birmingham

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