Michael Banas, MD


Published 6/20/2024
Alexandra E. Page, MD, FAAOS

How Orthopaedic Surgeons Can Write Thrilling Medical Fiction

Has writing a novel ever been of interest to you? During fellowship, orthopaedic surgeon Michael Banas, MD, was able to compose 19 chapters of his first novel. Unfortunately, the rest of life got in the way. At age 50, however, he returned to those chapters and brought the book to completion. Since then, Dr. Banas has published not just his original novel but more. After a cadence of about one per year, he can now boast 10 published novels. Dr. Banas, a practicing orthopaedic surgeon in Plains, Pennsylvania, believes that every surgeon has at least one good story to tell. He joined AAOS Now Deputy Editor Alexandra Page, MD, FAAOS, to discuss his writing and offer advice to other surgeons interested in taking their ideas all the way to publication.

The novels Dr. Banas writes fall into the genre of “medical thrillers.” They call on his medical knowledge, as well as a vivid imagination. A Pennsylvania native, Dr. Banas weaves Philadelphia General into the setting for all his books. Although it no longer exists, the institution dated back to 1729 as a public teaching hospital. He believes that orthopaedic training qualifies anyone to write a medical thriller, noting that all those experiences can be mined for characters and vignettes.

Dr. Banas shared lessons learned over his years as a writer. He considers procrastination the arch enemy of a writer. Short bursts of dedicated writing early in the morning are productive for him. After a day in the OR or clinic, enthusiasm for creative writing can be hard to find. He references the experience of getting “lost in the novel,” escaping into the plot and the characters as an oasis that drives him to keep writing. Like becoming a surgeon, he says, writing is a long game. The more an author writes, the better the product; Dr. Banas estimates that it takes publishing at least one million words to claim the title of “author.”

Self-publishing through Amazon offers Dr. Banas a way to reach readers. Although there are many steps to follow for self-publishing, he has been very successful, with more than 2.3 million pages of his works read in the Kindle format. As the only way to engage potential readers, he puts effort into the title and cover art. Dr. Banas works with a company that uses an international contest model to source creative ideas for covers. Additionally, Dr. Banas credits a pool of reliable editors and proofreaders, including family members and practice partners, who offer valuable feedback. Diligence at all steps in the process has been rewarded with several of his novels reaching the number one spot on the Amazon Top 100 Free Medical Thrillers list.

Dr. Banas offered 10 suggestions to aspiring writers:

  1. Write about what you know.
  2. Do not tip your hand—let the reader figure it out.
  3. Remove anything that is not a part of the story.
  4. Save two or three ‘aha’ moments for the end.
  5. When the storyline stalls, kill off a main character.
  6. If the story does not start until page 123, it is better to start the story there (credit to mystery writer Stephen King).
  7. Give the main character a lifelong crisis that needs closure. Then close it.
  8. Do not read one-star reviews of your work.
  9. Constantly create conflict between characters. Conflict drives a novel.
  10. Do not ever give up your day job.

Following his number-one bit of advice, he continues his “day job” as an orthopaedic surgeon, but the hours he spends getting lost in his novels affords readers a delightful escape from their day jobs.

Alexandra E. Page, MD, FAAOS, is a foot and ankle specialist in private practice in San Diego, California, and the deputy editor of AAOS Now.

Thrilling reads

Alexandra E. Page, MD, FAAOS, reviewed a few of the medical thrillers from Michael Banas, MD, offering her thoughts and favorite moments.

As an avid fan of mysteries, I relished the excuse to put down orthopaedic journals and read a few of Dr. Banas’ medical thrillers. His most recent book, Aldo, explores what can go wrong when the administration at Philadelphia General turns to artificial intelligence (AI)—a technology dubbed ‘Aldo’—for treatment optimization in their financially struggling emergency department.

Alexandra E. Page, MD, FAAOS

Dr. Banas gives a voice to physicians with a healthy skepticism about AI’s potential: “Who gets sued when our new colleague Aldo makes a mistake?” This timely book calls out some of the current controversies surrounding AI, including a conversation among Aldo’s creators acknowledging the racial bias inherent in their choice of system-training data. Dr. Banas builds supporting characters with the same care as the major protagonists. I delighted in Dr. Wilburton, the nonagenarian internist who, after lifting the sheet from the legs of a patient to reveal pitting edema, suggested that rather than ordering an echocardiogram, the young doctors could consider a physical exam. Although you can assume Aldo will cause problems, this engaging, fast-paced story comes with a creative twist on how a computer can harness resources to follow a directive.

Dr. Banas notes Saving Chopin as another favorite among his creations, merging historical fiction with medical mystery. Written during the pandemic, it was the product of detailed research into the murky medical conditions and death of the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin. This thriller imaginatively weaves a scene of Chopin’s death through the lens of modern-day medicine and, of course, the resourceful doctors at Philadelphia General. For this novel, Dr. Banas found that the writing was not the only challenge: The Chopin Institute in Poland owns the Chopin trademark, and an arduous editing process was necessary prior to receiving a license for publication.