Area doctor publishes career reflections in newest bookLocal physician Therese Zink understands the importance of reflecting on her job and is hoping her new book will help other medical professionals see that as well.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Local physician Therese Zink understands the importance of reflecting on her job and is hoping her new book will help other medical professionals see that as well.
“As a physician, you really hold people’s stories and they interact with your own story,” she said. “In the process of helping and caring for others you also get insights into your own strengths and weaknesses.”
Zink is part of University of Minnesota Family Medicine and Community Health faculty and is a physician at Mayo Clinic Health System locations in Zumbrota and Red Wing. She’s also the author of three books, her most recent being “Confessions of a Sin Eater: A Doctor’s Reflections.”
Zink’s first two novels, “The Country Doctor Revisited” and “Becoming a Doctor: Reflections,” featured collections of stories from healthcare providers and medical students.
“Confessions” offers a collection of stories from Zink’s own 20-plus-year career in medicine. It includes her honest reflections on caring for patients in a variety of locations, including in a domestic violence shelter, on a Navajo reservation, in Russia through Doctors Without Borders, on mission trips in Latin America and in clinics of southeastern Minnesota.
Since privacy laws keep patients from having their information released, Zink said she either got permission from people before using their stories or tweaked several details to protect everyone involved.
“I may change the gender, I may change the disease, I may change the setting,” Zink said.
Still, every one of the stories remains fact-based.
“We call it creative nonfiction. None of the stories are fictionalized,” she added.
“Confessions” examines some of the moral quandaries physicians often face as a result of knowing too much about patients. In it, Zink writes about the burden of bearing witness to violence, abuse and neglect, while also recognizing that her patients have given her the ability to reflect on her own wounds as well.
“In the process of working with patients you grow yourself. It’s important at some point to step back and look at those places where we get moved ourselves,” Zink said. “It helps make us better doctors. It’s also important to avoid burnout because if you don’t look at what moves you, you stuff it.”
The fact that Zink is continually listening to patients’ stories is what helped her choose to title her book “Confessions of a Sin Eater.” A sin eater, she said, was historically a poor man who would sit at the bedside of a wealthy man and listen to his story as he was dying. Through that process the dying man’s soul was guaranteed to go to heaven.
“I’m kind of using the term metaphorically,” Zink said.
Although the book’s content makes it seem like it is tailored to doctors, Zink said people unrelated to a medical profession have given good feedback after reading it as well. It provides insight into how a doctor thinks and feels — something someone outside of the medical field doesn’t usually get to experience.
“I think it has general appeal,” Zink said.
“Confessions” is available in print and digital form at www.amazon.com.