There’s only so much creativity we want in our physicians, right? After all, shouldn’t one stick to  generally accepted rules when writing prescriptions? We don’t sign our name where the date should be and we don’t leave the dosing up to our patients. We employ checklists in the operating room and reminders in the clinic so that even the slightest swerve toward negligence can be quickly corrected. Early in my training, with the starch still stiffening my white coat, I collected thick stacks of notecards to remind me of all the right ways to practice medicine.

And practice I did.

During the first year of my medical apprenticeship, I quietly hid the creativity of my liberal arts education. Ignoring the advice of my English teachers, I liberally plagiarized the chart notes of my mentors, creating an eerie similarity between infant and elderly patients as I learned the proper way to record my findings. “Fat feet” translated into “lower extremity edema” while “crusty scabs” became “eczematous lesions.” My transformation from a history major to a history taker clipped along, and by Christmas, I could report the narrative of a hospitalized patient as fluently as I could retell childhood stories. Soon my terse prescriptions and taught presentations mimicked my mentors. I completed my intern year as a well-trained clerk, able to track down labs in the most remote corner of the hospital. I knew I must be ready for the next step of becoming a doctor.

What I did not know, or at least did not appreciate, was that with experience came responsibility. With responsibility came decision making. And when charged with making those decisions, I stumbled, wilting under the white-hot expectations of those who called me their doctor. I knew my medical facts when the road was wide and the questions were clear. Complaints of chest pain meant heart attacks. Broken ribs. Sometimes hear burn. But how could I tell when complaints of chest pain meant pneumonia. Or kidney infections.

Or cancer.

While my vocabulary couldn’t articulate the answer then, I now know that those are the medical situations that cry out for creativity. Not in the process. Those fundamentals don’t change. But creativity in the problem solving. Creativity in the consideration. Creativity in the communication.

We all do this. Approaching familiar situations in new ways is the essence of creativity. It allows us to weigh what works in our mind against the nagging unmet expectations of what doesn’t fit. It allows us to tackle a challenge from a new direction. To think of the same things differently.

We do this as readers. In those delicious hours of solitude when a protagonist grabs us by the hand and tugs us through the pages of a novel, we take a creative journey. We ache when he makes a bad decision. We yearn for her not to knock on the darkened door. “I would not have done that!” you shout in your head, but read on to discover the consequences of those choices. That’s creativity.

We do this as writers. In front of the late-night glow of the screen, we agonize over the fate of our characters, trying to find new ways to express universal themes. We put them in impossible situations and then elegantly release them from certain harm. That’s creativity.

For years. I imagined my writing as a refuge on a solitary island, ferried away from a more certain world. Only recently have I recognized the creative causeway that joins the two.

Who want’s creativity in their physicians?

In the right situations, hopefully we all do.