For over three decades, Dr. Michael Rushnak was a ‘real doctor’, the kind that could write you a prescription with an illegible signature and order you to skip work with that much beloved note. After a long career in health care, the doctor faced his toughest medical challenge yet- fighting cancer. This journey renewed his passion in writing and spawned a second career for the Doc- an author of medical thrillers. Cancer-free and working on his third published novel, find out why he was just named one of the “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Author’s Show.
Doctor Rushnak is certified in both Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and founded his private practice in 1979. He worked as a practicing physician until the early ’90’s when he decided to pursue work in the public health arena. To this day, he continues to work as a health care medical consultant, having spent years working with State Government and many companies interested in improving patient care. But his own medical scare, forced him to re-examine his life and return to a passion he had since his high school and college days- writing. Only a few short years later and Rushnak is among top authors in the medical thriller field and working on his third book. He is also fielding interest from Hollywood to bring this trilogy to the silver screen.
In September 2008, Dr Michael Rushnak released his first novel, Terminal Neglect which was endorsed by NY Times best -selling author, Michael Palmer, as “one of the very best medical thrillers I have read, not recently, EVER!”. In Terminal Neglect, Dr. Jonathan Rogers is an idealistic and crusading physician whose lifelong dream is to be appointed Surgeon General. Shortly after interviewing for the position with the President of the United States, Dr. Rogers is shot. He awakens from surgery with a shocking medical finding and soon discovers that he’s been targeted by a sinister cult known as ‘The Health Club’. In Terminal Neglect , it’s never a question of whether The Health Club will kill for power and insatiable greed. It’s only a matter of whether anyone is willing to risk sacrificing their own life to stop them!
In June 2011, Michael released his 2nd medical thriller novel, The Savior Vaccine. Several of the main characters from Michael’s first novel, Terminal Neglect, return in an attempt to unlock the deadly mystery of the The Savior Vaccine In this latest novel, Surgeon General, Dr. Jonathan Rogers, meets a world renowned scientist, Dr. Hussein Nasters, who claims to have developed a vaccine that will prevent radiation induced diseases. Rogers, while evaluating the safety of this blockbuster discovery called NeoBloc, uncovers the truth about the savior vaccine. Will NeoBloc save America or will it be the fuse that triggers World War Three?
Michael is currently in the process of writing his last novel in The Health Club Mysteries fictional trilogy, a medical thriller to be titled, Denied, expected to be published in 2012.
Q: When did you first realize that you could write? Did you have a mentor or was there a particular person in your life who encouraged you to write?
A: Going back to grammar school, I always scored high in both verbal as well as science testing. I started writing Walter Mitty short stories for school projects. My parochial school teachers recognized my aptitude for writing and encouraged me to take creative writing courses. In high school, I made an attempt to write a novel but by that time after seeing the medical TV shows when I was sixteen years old—shows like Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare-–I was hooked on being a doctor. During the writing of Terminal Neglect, I attended a workshop given by Dr. Michael Palmer and I credit him with helping me learn many of the basics of plot and character development as well as perseverance to keep writing and re-writing. It was serendipitous that I met Dr. Palmer. I had received a flyer in the mail about a writing workshop he was giving in Cape Code. It was a flyer that went out to a random list of doctors and I decided to make the trip from NJ, where I live, to attend. I quickly viewed Dr. Palmer as a mentor and by the next year I was asked to attend the workshop as a speaker to share my story with aspiring doctors and show how they could meet the same success I did with Terminal Neglect.
Q:When you went to college was it a foregone conclusion that you were going to be a doctor or did you have to make a tough decision between your love for writing and your love for medicine?
A: My major in college was pre-med so by that time I was focused like a laser beam solely on getting into medical school. Around this time, I stopped writing and fully dedicated myself to becoming a doctor.
Q: After thirty plus productive years in the health care field what led you back to writing?
A: Eight years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt a need to share some of my personal insights into what I was going through in dealing with my illness. At the time, my oncologist encouraged me to do so as well. Realizing that ‘life is short’, I dove into my former passion for writing about six years ago. With each keystroke, the emotions, the tensions, and the fears dissipated somewhat as it seemed as though they were being released from me to the page on which I was writing. Authoring Terminal Neglect was truly a healthy catharsis for me since I was able to combine my newly found attitude of ‘living in the moment’, enjoying each day’s joyful and tearful experiences, with my lifelong idealism to do whatever it took to be an advocate for the health of all patients. In this medical mystery thriller, Dr. Rogers is faced with ongoing ultimatums of choosing the greater good for society or something that would fulfill his own life’s personal dream. In his dilemma, he must decide whether he will literally ‘march into hell for a heavenly cause’ as the forces of evil threaten his life and career. I believe that many readers relate to Dr. Rogers since in their own lives they are frequently faced with making choices either for what’s best for many others or to do good only for themselves. I believe the latter is bad if it hurts others. It’s fair to say that I live somewhat vicariously through the character of Dr. Rogers.
Q: Where did the idea for Terminal Neglect come from and how difficult was it for you to transition that idea from your mind into a terrific novel?
A: In writing, you focus on what you know. So, it comes easy for me to use my broad healthcare background to come up with ideas for my books. The idea for Terminal Neglect came from a personal experience during my first year in private practice. A drug representative aggressively tried to induce me to prescribe a new drug. I resisted and six months later, the drug was removed from the market after it caused forty-two deaths. So I wanted to depict in my novel that drugs are a double edged sword—physicians must appropriately weigh the benefits and the risks and share those risks with the patient so the doctor acts as an advocate for the best interests of the patient. So, I created the character of Dr. Rogers to always seek what is right against the evil forces of ‘The Health Club’—representing insatiable and rapacious profiteering.
Q: Jonathan Rogers is the main character and hero in both of your books. Who is the character based on and how much of you is part of the character?
A: As a physician for the last 37 years, I have seen the good as well as the bad side of healthcare. In Terminal Neglect, Dr. Jonathan Rogers possesses many of my own values, both from a professional and a personal perspective. So, the character of Dr. Rogers is to a great extent an extension of who I am. In many ways, I see the world as a struggle of good versus evil. Therefore, I come up with story lines where Dr. Rogers is sucked into evil plots that surface around him. And, the key in the thrillers that I write is that the main character is always at personal risk for losing his own life and career and what he is fighting for is something that will help society as a whole. In Terminal Neglect, safer drugs, and in The Savior Vaccine, an effective and safe vaccine to prevent diseases from exposure to radiation are the worthwhile goals. ‘The Health Club’ stands in the way—ready, willing, and able to demolish anyone who gets in their way.
Q: Fans have asked if there are any plans to bring your books to the big screen and who would you like to see play the part of Dr. Jonathan Rogers?
A: Actually, I have been approached by a CEO of a venture capital company who after reading Terminal Neglect envisioned the story on the big screen. I have been in touch with screenwriters in Los Angeles who have begun the process of writing a screenplay from my novel. Yet, there is more work to do. I would love to see Harrison Ford play the part of Dr. Rogers so if he reads this interview, I hope he would consider championing these important stories!
Q: For your loyal fans how soon can we expect to see the third book in The Health Club Mysteries fictional trilogy?
A: The third book in the trilogy, Denied, is well underway and the outline for a fourth medical thriller has been swirling around my imagination for at least a year. In addition, I expect Terminal Neglect to come out in paperback in the near future. Many of the leading characters in Terminal Neglect will return in the subsequent novels unless they meet their untimely demise, the ever present reality that is woven into the fabric of all medical thrillers.
Q: While I know that you are still very active in the health care field, how has your transition from Doctor and healthcare professional to author changed your life?
A: My wife has been my chief cheerleader and a major help in providing me constructive feedback on the drafts of my writing before they are finalized. She also accompanies me to all my book signing events. We both enjoy engaging with the public. For my first book, we went on a nine state book tour and at one point Terminal Neglect was the #3 best-selling medical thriller in the country on Amazon. ‘Writing is re-writing’ and for the most part is a solitary experience. Having my wife providing me with support and input has been invaluable and it makes the entire process easier. We are a good team together and our lives have been enhanced by bringing us together as we share each facet of the process from an idea, to a draft, to a book, and finally the marketing and selling of the novels. On the other hand, I don’t think that writing has really changed who I am but writing is certainly a tool to help me express my feelings about life. It is definitely heartening to hear from readers of my books when they write positive book reviews about my medical mystery thrillers. It also gives me a warm feeling inside when readers tell me they learned something that may have affected their life for the good. Being able to create a story that gives others some enjoyment in their lives is richly rewarding.
The Health Club Mysteries Trilogy is available to all eBook customers (the Kindle, the Nook, iPad), as well as online and in print from Barnes & Nobles locations and Amazon. It is also available through Michael Rushnak’s website. You can follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.