Launching Penndulum was a much bigger deal than we expected. It seemed pretty mundane to us: a limited-print, mostly online residents’ magazine with articles, essays, poetry, and art inspired by our clinical work. We didn’t include anything we considered controversial– no edgy humor, nothing anti-establishment, and no mention of sex, politics, race, or religion. We didn’t say anything that hadn’t been said a million times before by well-respected news outlets.
Penndulum was deemed controversial by some administrators nonetheless. We were warned the frank tone and honest discussion of depression, burnout, and suicide, though well documented nationally, could make us look “bad”.
This puzzled us. Penndulum #1 was a roaring success. We only printed 200 copies, unsure how big our audience would be. We grossly underestimated. We got 4,500 hits online from 46 countries on 6 continents. Readers responded with accolades like, “I cried reading it. This was our world,” “Simply one of the best things I’ve ever read,” “LOVED this. So much truth,” and “Brilliant! Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Our launch party brought 60 members of the Penn psychiatry community together for live music, authors’ readings, and artists’ presentations. It was one of the best-attended department events in years. The content and spirit of Penndulum were widely praised.
Why did Penndulum make a splash and why is it controversial? We think the answers are interconnected. Penndulum gives voice to the unspoken thoughts, fears, hopes, and disappointments inherent to practicing medicine. It turns out that doctors, even psychiatrists, aren’t supposed to speak of our own negative emotions.
Representing doctors as humans is what made Penndulum controversial. We realized what cannot be said in medicine is far more vast than what can be said. The Hippocratic oath is widely interpreted as an oath of stoicism and a willingness to endure the suffering of oneself and others in silence.
“Unspeakables and Ineffables,” that which cannot and should not be said in medicine, is the theme of this issue. This topic is regrettably vast and potentially deadly to physicians and trainees leading, in our opinion, to isolation, burnout, depression, and suicide. This is why we created this magazine.
Inside, you’ll find raw, potentially shocking reflections of the emotional experiences of providers at every level of training. We want to shine a light on the negative emotions and experiences that are often silenced and sequestered to help make sense of them and to find any beauty or wisdom that may be generated by pain. We aren’t scared of looking bad. We think that honest expression of negative emotions is an act of strength and a necessary survival mechanism that sometimes, even, generates art.
We welcome questions, comments, or submissions of art or writing. Submit to PenndulumEditors@gmail.com.
Lisa Jacobs, MD, MBA, founding editor, who will expand Penndulum to Stanford University as a Child & Adolescent Psychiatry fellow
Behdad Bozorgnia, MD, MAPP, co-editor-in-chief and chief resident of Penn Behavioral Health outpatient practices
Danielle Couture, MD, co-editor-in-chief, art director