Protocols, Perseverance and Plot Twists | Danish Diabetes and Endocrine Academy
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Protocols, Perseverance and Plot Twists

Protocols, Perseverance and Plot Twists -

Isabelle Steineck’s CV now says Doctor and Author of Crime. Isabelle Steineck finds that the process of publishing a PhD and publishing a book shares more similarities than differences: They both require protocols, perseverance and the additional plot twist. However, they differ on one liberating aspect: Fiction sets you reference-free. In this article, we have asked Isabelle Steineck how a Doctor becomes a novelist.

A Swedish doctor lies dead at the emergency department at Hvidovre Hospital in Copenhagen. She did not come to the handover meeting at the end of her shift and now the colleagues are looking for her. Meanwhile, in a newspaper editorial office in Malmö, a reporter reads about the doctor's death. However, what the short notice does not reveal is that they share a childhood bond …

So reads the plot of Isabelle Steineck’snew novel Medan giftet sprider sig (Whilst the Poison Spreads). Isabelle Steineck works as a medical doctor (MD) at the Department of Endocrinology at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. She is also a former DDA-funded PhD researcher within the area of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring in people with type 1 diabetes. But how does a Medical Doctor (MD) and researcher end up a published novelist?

- Medical research and writing fiction seem two very different worlds from the outset, but planning and finishing a novel and planning and finishing a clinical study has more similarities than one might think, says Isabelle Steineck.

- My cowriter, journalist Ralph Bretzer, and I wrote a ‘protocol’ for the novel just as I had learned during my years as a PhD student. We then used the protocol for the plot of the study.

Isabelle Steineck has always loved to write. Letters, research articles, short stories, theatre plays or articles for the medical university paper, and during her PhD study, she enjoyed writing the protocols and later the papers. To Isabelle Steineck, the format is less important than the process of formulating words that carry the power to change the mind of the reader, and she sees several similarities in the process of writing a PhD and writing a novel.

- To be able to finish a PhD you need to work hard and never give up. You do not know if the study will provide any new, usable results but you believe it will and continue your work. It is the same process when writing a novel: You do not know if anyone wants to publish or read it, but you believe someone will, so you keep on writing and never give up, says Isabelle Steineck.

Writing Fiction Sets You Reference-Free

Isabelle Steineck has written the novel together with journalist Ralph Bretzer which has been four years in the making. They have written on the book in their free time. To Isabelle Steineck, there is a very important and liberating difference between writing a research paper and a novel:

- To me, it is liberating to use my imagination. When you write a research paper everything has to be correct, and you should have a reference for every sentence with a statement. When writing fiction, however, you can make a character say a statement without a reference, says Isabelle Steineck.

During her time as a PhD, Isabelle Steineck worked with studies related to hypoglycaemia and exercise, and during a research-exchange stay in Portland, Oregon, in 2019, she gained eye-opening experience and insights into the future of diabetes treatments. Since finishing her DDA-funded PhD in 2020, Isabelle Steineck has worked clinically and specialised in endocrinology at both Hvidovre Hospital, Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet. She has also been involved in a new epidemiological study, but it is not published yet.

Doctor with Type 1 Diabetes

When asked what is next for her, Isabelle is quick to answer: She wants to continue to do research in the field of diabetes, help people with diabetes and other endocrine diseases as a doctor, and write novels and draw.

- Since I was seven years old and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes myself, I have wanted to ‘find a cure for diabetes’ and work as an author. Perhaps a childish dream but I am still working on it, says Isabelle Steineck.

Speech bubble: “If I can become a doctor without a pump and continuous glucose monitor, you can also succeed with your dream”
Drawing: Isabelle Steineck

Medan giftet sprider sig (Whilst the Poison Spreads) is a suspenseful novel with unexpected connections to people and memories – memories that are deeply rooted in the characters. The reader follows the doctor from her first day of work at the hospital and meets her family and colleagues. At the same time, they follow the reporter's search for the truth about what happened.

The novel will be available in Swedish in August.

Isabelle Steineck hopes it will also be available in Danish.

Contact Information

Isabelle Isa Kristin Steineck
Doctor at Department of Hormone and Metabolic Disorders, Centre for Cancer and Organ Diseases, Rigshospitalet


Also make sure to check out Isabelle Steinecks Instagram accounts:
@Diabetes1cartoon: Drawings about living with diabetes
@Steineck__Bretzer: Information about the book and book process