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Jacob Appel’09: Doctor, Lawyer, Writer, Teacher, Tour Guide

Jacob AppelAlthough he has been out of medical school for less than three years, Jacob M. Appel’09 is far more accomplished than his newly minted alumni status would suggest. The third-year psychiatry resident at Mount Sinai School of Medicine is also a lawyer (Harvard Law), bioethicist, medical historian, essayist, playwright, prize-winning writer of short stories, frequent Huffington Post contributor, and a former faculty member at Brown University, where he earned honors for his teaching.

He also has taught at New York University and the Gotham Writers Workshop. He has four master’s degrees – from Brown (European history), Columbia (American history and philosophy), and NYU (MFA in creative writing) – and is working on a Ph.D. thesis at Columbia on the history of American medicine and psychiatry. And if that’s not enough to pack a CV, he also is a licensed New York City sightseeing guide.

“I’ll confess that one of the reasons I’ve earned so many degrees is that I like knowing things. But beyond mere intellectual curiosity, I think one can function better in any professional role – whether as a physician, an attorney, or even a sightseeing guide – if one has a broad base of knowledge and experience. Too often, our intellectual culture favors depth of knowledge in a particular niche over broader understanding. Up to a point, that’s good. But at some point one goes from knowing a lot about a very small subject to knowing everything about nothing. So keeping a more panoramic perspective has always been important to me.”

He has written essays about the intersection of law, medicine, and philosophy that have appeared in national and regional newspapers. He also contributes to the Journal of Medical Ethics, the Journal of Clinical Ethics, the Hastings Center Report, the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, and other academic publications.

His short fiction has been published in more than 100 literary journals. One short story, “Shell Game With Organs,” won a Boston Review contest in 1998. Another, “Enoch Arden’s One Night Stands,” won first place in the 2004 New Millennium Writings competition. A third story, “The Ataturk of the Outer Boroughs,” won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom short story competition. He also has won contests sponsored by literary journals, Writers’ Voice, the Dana Awards, and the Salem Center for Women Writers. His story about two census takers, “Counting,” was short listed for the O. Henry Award in 2001.  Other stories received “special mention” for the 2006 and 2007 Pushcart Prize. 

His plays have been staged in Detroit, Maryland, Philadelphia, and Alexandria, Va.

For the Huffington Post, he has written about legal and ethical issues. His most recent post, in January 2011, titled “Want a Gun? Get a Prescription,” addressed efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of mentally unstable individuals. An archive of his contributions can be found on the Huffington Post site.

In writing “A Day in the Life of a PGY-2 Resident” at Mount Sinai, Dr. Appel described the transformative changes from first year to second year of residency. “As a PGY-1, patients and colleagues treat you like a physician; as a PGY-2, you actually feel like a physician.” The transition from learner to full-fledged team member becomes clearer. “Attendings…ask you questions because they want to know the answer, not merely to find out if you know the answer.”

Dr. Appel’s website, www.jacobmappel.com, includes links to some of his fiction.