Physician finds success writing medical thrillersTweet
By Allyson Bird
Office of Development, Alumni Affairs
Midway through his medical career, Leonard Goldberg, M.D., realized how much a hospital discharge summary for a tough case resembled a novel.
“A patient is stricken by disease. The patient is the victim, and the disease is the villain,” he explained. “The doctor is the protagonist, and it’s like a
mystery. Lab tests are the evidence, and the solution is the diagnosis.”
Guided by that logic, he embarked on a writing career that took him to the USA Today Best-Selling Books list and options for movies. Goldberg, a Charleston native and member of the MUSC College of Medicine’s class of 1960, now is at work on his 14th medical thriller. He retired from his rheumatology practice in California a little more than a year ago and moved back to his beach house on Sullivan's Island to write full time.
Goldberg credits his success to “one part talent and one big part luck.”
He grew up in Charleston’s Radcliffeborough neighborhood. His father had aspired to become a physician and reached his sophomore year at the College of Charleston by age 18, but had to drop out after his own father’s death.
“I lived his dream,” Goldberg said. When the younger Goldberg attended MUSC, he numbered among only 80 students in the COM.
From there, he completed his graduate internship and residency in St. Louis, Mo., and then received military draft orders to work at an Air Force referral hospital near Tokyo. When he returned to the United States, he moved to California to pursue a career treating blood disorders at UCLA. There, in the early 1980s, he met the patient who inspired his first novel.
An elderly woman's immune system produced antibodies that destroyed her red blood cells and caused severe anemia. Blood transfusions failed, until Goldberg and his colleagues discovered, by chance, a family with a rare blood type which made them universal donors.
The family ignited Goldberg’s imagination. After working all day in clinic, he then went home to write and found himself immersed in the story. He skipped a night’s sleep here and there, and a tale unfolded about a young woman whose organs could be transplanted into anyone without fear of rejection.
That’s when the “one big part luck” came in. Goldberg saw a magazine feature on the top five up-and-coming literary agents at the time, and he called the first name on the list. The agent told him she would read his book, but since he was a first-time novelist, she required a small payment up front.
Goldberg agreed to her terms, but asked that, if she accepted the novel, she refund his check. Three days later, the agent called to tell him his check was in the mail. A second career had begun.
Goldberg set up a writer’s oasis for himself at his home on Sullivan’s Island, and soon his after-hours hobby became a full-time job. Today Goldberg writes his medical thrillers in pen on legal pads while standing at a podium overlooking a desk he never uses to write. He sends the work off to a typist to transcribe.
His new release, Plague Ship, explores the idea of a deadly viral outbreak aboard a cruise ship that is placed under federal quarantine and must remain at sea indefinitely. A conflict erupts among the passengers and crew on whether to pull ashore and save themselves or die at sea to protect the public from a pandemic.
Goldberg said each character in his novels represents a composite of people from his own life including, undoubtedly, a few personalities from Charleston and MUSC.