Doctor-Author Chat: Jill Grimes, MD
I have alot of doctor friends who write, go figure! I wanted to feature their works in a thoughtful, engaging, different way, and here it is: A behind-the-scenes one-on-one Q&A-style chat!
First up is Jill Grimes, MD, FAAFP, board-certified practicing Family Physician, medical media expert, and award-winning author of The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness (which has already won the 2020 Literary Titan Award!). Dr. Grimes’ media work includes print (Parenting Magazine, Glamour, etc.), online (Livestrong.com), television and radio talk shows (Sirius XM Doctor Radio). She has a really excellent helpful medical blog, Jill Grimes MD. She sees patients at the University of Texas at Austin and is a proud mom to two awesome collegiate daughters. She also has serious academic medical chops: She speaks at national AAFP, Pri-Med®, and Harvard Medical School conferences, and is on clinical faculty at UMASS Medical School.
I was lucky to get ahold of Dr. Grimes as she promotes her latest book:
Me: Tell us what your book is about and how it will help people?
Dr. Grimes: The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness is a practical, evidence-based guidebook (served with a dose of humor) that addresses the most common injuries, illnesses and anxieties that we see on college campuses. The book is literally organized from head to toe to easily access whatever problem pops up.
Me: I know you’ve been posting about all the 2020 back-to-school issues. How does your book help students in the COVID-19 era?
Dr. Grimes: COVID19 has our collective attention focused on health like never before, and as our kids head back to college, the reality is that health centers on and off campus will be swamped with COVID concerns. However, pandemics don’t stop sprained ankles, food poisoning, kidney stones, or hangovers, and online classes can actually exacerbate fear of public speaking and test anxiety…so, I really hope this book can help students help themselves, and clearly understand exactly when it’s important for them to seek professional help.
Me: It’s such a practical book! How did it come about? Tell us the secret backstory!
Dr. Grimes: The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook is literally a decade-long passion project that began with my crafty/Girl Scout leader portion of my brain creating personalized college first aid kits as high school grad gifts. I started with a single index card with a few key tips- when to take Tylenol vs. Advil, which cream to use when, and when that had evolved to a 20+ page laminated booklet (don’t laugh- I love to laminate!) well, it was time for a full book.
Me: So, was it easy to find an agent and a publisher?
Dr. Grimes: I’ve published four other books, and have the privilege of being a book pitch coach at Harvard Medical School’s annual publishing conference, so I was teed up for success when I pitched the idea…or so I thought. The first agent that I pitched the idea to literally responded, “And who would actually BUY this book? Do you really think there is an audience for this?” Um, gut punch. Or lower. I had delivered my pitch flawlessly, with confidence and enthusiasm, including my platform, business plan and special sales. And YES, I thought there was an audience, because I AM the audience, as a parent of two college students. So… after I slunk away from this agent, cried in the bathroom for a moment and then talked to a physician friend/mentor, I gathered myself together and pitched to another agent- who lit up with enthusiasm and said, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing! Tell me more!” Side note- the first agent did not have kids, while the second is already enjoying grandchildren who are headed to college. Rule number one: know your audience, and that includes the ears hearing your pitch.
Me: That’s a great rule! So once you had an agent, what other challenges did you face in bringing this book to exist? I KNOW there were challenges!
Dr. Grimes: Here’s the thing: I intended to write this book in time to have it published before our older daughter headed to college…but that didn’t happen. “Parenting” sequential aging parents through their final challenging chapters sucked up any extra time beyond my doctoring day job, not to mention my fun but way too time-consuming parent job of being the dance team photographer, leaving me no time to write. I don’t regret one second with our parents or kids’ dance team, but that’s reality, and there are only so many hours in a day. Then, with one kid in college and eventually all four parents (hubby’s and mine) in heaven, the last two years having a high school kid flew by. Cue empty nest year one: that doubting Thomas in my brain whispered, “why bother now?” BUT…kid #1 and all her friends who were recipients of our first aid kits and booklets kept texting me more questions, along with profuse thanks for their kits, and meanwhile, kid #2 got a college job as an illustrator for her university press. That same kid #2 had been illustrating my medical talks and blog posts for years, and so I thought it would be a great idea to have her draw me a few sample illustrations for my book proposal, though quite honestly, I never actually thought that a publisher would agree to have her BE the illustrator. (Another side note: publishers typically want control of the illustrations and especially the cover, so please don’t labor over your title, cover or pictures until you have a book contract!) In the end, the biggest name publishers passed on my project, but my agent found the perfect fit with Skyhorse Publishing, and they immediately “got” that having a college student illustrating this college handbook was a beautiful match. When they also chose to put kid #2’s illustrations on the cover- well, that’s a Mom brag moment, for sure!”
Me: That’s so, so cool and I hope to have similar projects with my kids someday! What are some major points you want the reader to take away after reading your book?
Dr. Grimes: To the college student readers, I say: You’ve got this! There are SO many things you can do to not only advocate for your own health care, but steps you can take on your own that will immediately make a difference when you have injuries, illnesses and anxieties. You are NOT alone, trust me, especially if you are dealing with anxiety and/or depression. The biggest mistake I see students make is waiting until they are at a crisis point to seek help, whether that is insomnia, test anxiety, an aching leg/foot (that turns out to be a stress fracture) or mono (when they thought they “only” had strep.) Dr. Google is an okay starting point, but there is so much misinformation on the internet, that I’d rather you to start here, with the ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook, so you know you are getting trustworthy, evidence-based advice. I’m in your corner, and frankly including a virtual mom-hug along with my recommendations. Please know I don’t harshly judge behavioral choices, and that when I say things like when you have an asthma flare up, you should stop smoking everything, including pot- I’m saying that because of the hundreds of students I’ve treated who weren’t getting better because either I DIDN’T think to say that, or I said it in a way that students didn’t hear it enough to change their behavior. If you can’t have a straightforward, honest conversation with your healthcare team, you won’t optimize your health.
Me: That nonjudgmental, practical approach is exactly what will help college students. But will their parents understand?
Dr. Grimes: To the parent readers, this is my message: Our kids have technology at their fingertips, but Dr. Google doesn’t always send them in the right direction. Or you. I hope this book will give you a ton of ideas about how to respond to those late-night frantic texts from your college kid, and help YOU sleep better afterwards. Thank goodness our parents didn’t have constant access to us during college, right? Remember that one night, or that month after your horrible break up, or how you spiraled after that failed quiz/test or…? Our weekly phone calls home back then could hide a bunch. Now, we see and hear from our kids (or see their social media posts) often multiple times per day- which is great, and not so great. If our last text from them was doom and gloom, we assume they are carrying that forward, but realize they may have vented and moved on.
Me: There’s been so much debate about back-to-school this year. What do you say to reassure students and their families?
Dr. Grimes: I hope, especially in this pandemic, that this book will give students a bit a control– suggestions to immediately help with so many of the problems they will face, in and out of the classroom. During the COVID conundrum, I believe any smidgen of control helps. We can’t control whether classes are online or hybrid or in person or back-and-forth, but there is much we can control in our behaviors, environments, and basic self-healthcare. My greatest wish for this book is that it gives students and parents a tiny measure of control and at least a momentary breath of relief when the inevitable crises crop up. Together, we’ve got this.”
Me: THANK YOU!