GRETCHEN LASALLE, DOCTOR AND AUTHOR | WOMEN OWNED SPOKANE
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED DOING THAT? (FOR YOU, HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN MEDICINE AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE YOUR BOOK?)
- I am a family physician at MultiCare Rockwood Clinic. I have been there 11 years and worked in Portland, OR for a few years prior to that after completing my residency training at OHSU (Oregon Health and Science University). I knew I wanted to be a doctor from the age of eight. I remember asking for a book on anatomy and memorizing the systems of the body (Skeletal, Muscular, Circulatory, Respiratory…), thinking I was going to get a jump on everyone else out there who wanted to be a doctor. At the time, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a doctor. I had no doctors in my family. I just knew I liked science and learning and the idea of making people feel better. And I still do! I work part time so that I can do my other job which is that of mother. I have two sons, one now in high school and one finishing up elementary. Motherhood is my greatest job and biggest adventure!
- I have always loved writing. I had the most amazing English teacher in high school who fostered within me a love of great literature and, much to my husband and children’s dismay since I’m constantly correcting them, a love of proper grammar. Some day I hope to contribute more in the creative writing realm. I have lots of story ideas and poetry ideas bubbling around in my head. But right now, I am using my writing to educate. I learned early on in my career that I have a gift for writing and for being persuasive through that writing. I get inspired by injustices and inefficiencies (in the workplace and in the world) and I have found that I can use my writing to help correct these issues.
- My latest passion is education about vaccines. As a primary care provider, I regularly see evidence of the great value of prevention in keeping us healthy. Vaccines are one of the most successful public health measures ever introduced, yet every day I have patients reluctant to get them. When we do some digging, their fears are most often based on inaccuracies and misunderstandings. There is so much bad information out there and I fear patients are making healthcare decisions that have the potential to significantly adversely affect their health or the health of their families based on those falsehoods. I have spent the last three to four years researching every negative claim about vaccines that I or my partners have ever heard and time and time again, I have found no significant evidence to support those claims. I spend a great deal of time, one on one, trying to educate my own patients about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines but I wanted to reach a wider audience. I also saw my fellow medical providers struggling in their vaccine conversations and wanted to help give them the tools and the information that I had learned in my years of research to help them have more effective and more satisfying vaccine discussions with their own patients.
- In April, I attended a conference at Harvard University called Writing, Publishing, and Social Media for Healthcare Professionals. I know it sounds a little corny but it truly changed my life. I met women there that I had been communicating with via a Facebook group of writer doctor moms – a remarkable group of women with amazing skills and talents and the desire to put each other forward and to promote each others work and passions. I was able to connect with publishers and editors and to learn how to use social media to my advantage in trying to spread my message more broadly. I learned how to write a book proposal and how to pitch an idea. I even pushed myself out of my comfort zone (as public speaking is not my favorite thing in the world) and got up in front of a room of hundreds of medical professionals and people in the publishing industry and pitched an idea for a book aimed at helping medical providers more successfully address vaccine-hesitancy. I returned to my seat with a round of applause and high-fives from the audience. I knew that what I wanted to write about was important and necessary but I hadn’t really grasped how much other providers might appreciate having such a resource.
- From there, it has been a whirlwind of activity. One of my friends from the conference put me in touch with an agent at Wolters Kluwer, a giant in the scientific and medical publishing industry. They loved my idea and offered me a contract to publish my book in the fall of 2019. In June, I published an article titled When the Answer to Vaccines is “No” in the Journal of Family Practice and have received much praise and appreciation for the work. Later in the summer, I launched my website (www.gretchenlasallemd.com) to provide a resource for patients and providers seeking to have questions answered about various vaccine and other preventive care topics. I have been putting out educational blogposts and videos and promoting primary research on the topic of vaccines through social media. I have been working with contacts in the community and at the Spokane Regional Health District to counter efforts by local anti-vaccine advocates to make the regulations we have in place, to protect our community from vaccine-preventable disease through vaccination programs, more lax. Between all that, and working at my regular doctor job, I am writing feverishly to meet my publishing deadline of January 2nd. Honestly, I’m looking forward to a little down time.
WHAT HAS BEEN ONE OF THE CHALLENGES IN WRITING YOUR BOOK?
- The biggest challenge in writing my book has been finding the time to write. There are always other demands on your time… work, family, trying to maintain healthy habits like exercising and preparing healthy meals, etc. I have to carve out time to write and edit (most often I do this in the early morning when kids are still asleep) but I also try to squeeze it in during the in-between moments. I have lists and sticky notes all over the house and on my phone. If I have an idea, I try to write it down right then and there because I may lose it if I don’t. Time with friends has suffered a bit – I’m sorry friends. I’ll be back, I promise.
FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO VENTURE INTO WRITING, WHETHER IT IS FICTION OR NON-FICTION, AS A CAREER, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR THEM?
- I would definitely try to attend conferences and writing workshops and make connections with people who share your passion. You will get great encouragement and feedback and inspiration and sometimes a kick in the pants from people who follow your same path. And you just might come across someone, as I did, who believes in your work and can help you make connections that will further your vision of becoming an author.
- Believe in yourself. Know that there will be rejections, and likely lots of them. Take the criticisms that you get and use them to make your work even stronger. Most people don’t set out to write a book and get a contract on their first try. Keep moving forward and don’t give up. Have a vision for your work but don’t be so married to your idea that you are unable to be flexible in making changes that will appeal to your audience. After all, writing isn’t really about the author. Books are only great if they allow the reader to make a connection, feel an emotion, or learn something that is valuable to the them.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE WORLD THROUGH YOUR WORK?
- My greatest goal in writing my book is to help medical providers feel more confident and find greater successes in their discussions with vaccine-hesitant patients. I want my medical partners to feel like they are again on the same side as their patients in the venture to keep patients healthy, instead of feeling like they are facing off in an adversarial relationship. That is not what physicians and other medical providers want and it’s not what patients want. I want to help rebuild that sacred doctor/patient relationship.
- I also, of course, hope that my efforts will help patients have greater confidence in the benefit and safety of vaccines and that we will see vaccination numbers increase and will quiet the voices speaking against vaccines. I hope to preserve the wonderful potential of our children by keeping them healthy and decreasing morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases. I never want parents to suffer the devastation of losing a child or to have to say to themselves “If only I had gotten my child vaccinated”.
AND THEN IF YOU HAVE ANY LAST BITS TO ADD AS EITHER AN ENTREPRENEUR/WRITER, OR AS A FEMALE IN THE INDUSTRY, YOU CAN ADD THAT.
- As a woman, I have been blessed in that I have always had wonderful support from the men in my life. I have never been told that I couldn’t do something because of my gender. I was taught by my father, a message now supported by my husband and which we try to teach our sons, that I can do anything I set my mind to if I’m willing to work hard enough for it. And the women in my life (mothers, grandmothers, sister, aunts, etc) have been amazing role models for me in strength and grace and courage.
- I live by the motto that one should never be entirely comfortable. We should always be pushing our boundaries. If something scares me, I tackle it head on and put myself in the position to have to face that fear. I never want to act, or not act, out of fear. That, to me, feels like failure. Putting yourself out there can definitely be scary. Advocating for an issue and pushing against a glass ceiling can earn you some enemies. But it will earn you a far greater number of friends and you might just bring about change for the better.
- Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Be gracious and appreciative but be direct. It saves a lot of time and hassle. You’ll be surprised at how often people will agree to your requests.
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