Shonit Nair Sharma has always enjoyed sharing stories with his older brother, a tradition that has been especially therapeutic for them while pursuing their dreams as doctors in training. Between long clinic shifts and study hours, Shonit and Ajay find time to call each other to talk about their unforgettable experiences as medical students—tales oftentimes of humor, but sometimes of sorrow, joy, or inspiration. As Shonit began medical school at Carle Illinois College of Medicine last year and began putting his own memorable stories from pen to paper, a physician wellness movement of epic proportions was brewing behind the scenes.

One day, after Ajay and his classmate Daniel Azzam described another unbelievable day on the inpatient wards to Shonit, the trio started to dream. “I wish there was a collection of stories about what it’s like to be a medical student, a platform where we can reflect and share our voice to colleagues, friends, and loved ones,” Azzam said. The brothers chimed in, “Even better, what if we could gather these stories from medical students of all levels of training, from all over the country.” Thus, Diary of a Med Student (DOAMS) was born.

Invigorated to launch their storytelling project, the trio began to assemble a diverse team of creative writing editors from across the nation to turn DOAMS into a reality.

“The purpose of the project is to address the critical issue of burnout among medical students and professionals, especially as it impacts education and health care,” Shonit said. “This is a place for students to express themselves, relate to others, and feel more connected on their journeys.”

Shonit wants to address the barriers to improving mental health and wellbeing and believes that storytelling can be an outlet to promote wellness among health professionals. “Burnout is real, and we want to provide a space that normalizes reflection and expression of emotions for medical students,” Shonit explains.

After launching their call for submissions earlier this year, DOAMS received over 200 submissions from 50 medical schools. The creative writing editors carefully reviewed the stories, blown away by the personal and heartfelt nature of each submission. Shonit, a creative writer who studied English literature at Oxford University, also submitted his own story. In total, Shonit and his co-editors selected about 100 entries for the book.

Shonit says DOAMS is coming at a time of great need. The COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and other struggles of 2020 have made DOAMS even more unique and appropriate for release than the team could have possibly imagined when they began. “The pandemic did not get in the way of storytelling,” Shonit said. “In fact, it has given med students a unique and important voice during this historic time in medicine, and I believe our book captures these current emotional challenges in a unifying and comforting space.”

The first DOAMS book was released in September 2020 and is available through online retailers. Azzam and the Sharma brothers are setting up the DOAMS Endowed Scholarship Fund and will donate 100% of book proceeds to medical students. As the project grows, the trio hopes to convert DOAMS into a nonprofit organization to oversee future ventures.

Shonit describes his experience of working across disciplines to improve physician wellness as an “ideal opportunity for a future physician-innovator.” He will continue his journey of expanding this movement across the nation, hoping to spark a powerful domino effect of change in medical education for years to come.

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