Laura B. Vater, MD, MPH, is a writer, advocate for medical trainees, and gastrointestinal oncologist at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her overarching career goal is to enhance humanism in medicine, for both patients and clinicians.
Vater is drawn to storytelling as a tool to enhance empathy and help clinicians cope with the challenges of their work. “Writing anchors me to the humanity of my patients, and to my own humanity,” she said. “It provides an avenue to reflect on a person’s story and the reasons I chose this work. It also helps me process the emotionally complex aspects of caring for patients with cancer.”
This year, her writing and reflections on creativity were featured in Pulitzer-Prize winning author Anna Quindlen’s latest book, Write for your Life. Vater is also a member of the Pegasus Physician Writers at Stanford University and is working on her first novel.
She has published a number of narrative medicine essays centered on challenging aspects of her work, such as sharing bad news (The Before and After), caring for patients during the peak of the pandemic (In the Valley), witnessing a stillbirth as a pregnant medical student (Papaya), and dealing with compassion fatigue (Lea Rose). She is part of a team creating a Narrative Medicine program for the Department of Medicine, specifically designed to benefit faculty members and trainees.
Vater has also developed and trademarked a health tool to help patients and clinicians prioritize their health, called the SMILE Scale (TM). She has given more than a hundred presentations to medical students, residents, and other groups about humanism in medicine, the SMILE ScaleTM and clinician well-being.
Rakesh Mehta, MD, Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Medicine and an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, praised Vater for her "elevated level of maturity and emotional intelligence."
"Her compassion and empathy have made her a stellar physician who is a wonderful advocate for her patients" and her colleagues, he said.
Vater is very active on social media, where she discusses topics related to humanism in medicine and the well-being of clinicians. She has an online following of more than 90,000 people, which makes her one of the most followed oncologists on Instagram.
“Social media is an important tool to connect with diverse people from all over the world, help raise awareness regarding the well-being of medical trainees, and advocate for better care for both patients and clinicians,” she said.
Raised in Indiana, she earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Notre Dame, a Master of Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Doctor of Medicine from Indiana University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine and fellowship in Oncology at Indiana University. She was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society in 2018 and is a member of the IU School of Medicine Honor Roll. This year, she was awarded the American Medical Women’s Association Charlotte Edwards Maguire, MD, Outstanding Resident Mentor Award.
In her free time, Laura enjoys reading, writing, hiking, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and dog.
To learn more about Dr. Vater and read her work, visit lauravater.com.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Hannah Calkins is the communications manager for the Department of Medicine.