Ellen Storm

Writing the White and Purple Coats



About Me

I was born in University College Hospital, and grew up on the Heathside and Lethbridge council estates in Lewisham, South-East London. My mother is originally from South Africa and my father is from Yorkshire. My step-father was from Germany, but he died from oesophageal cancer at the age of 37, when I was 16 years old.

I went to Ashmead Primary School in Deptford and then was granted an assisted place to study at Blackheath High School for Girls. I played the flute badly, was terrible at sport but obsessed with ballet, and spent all my pocket money on photography and tropical fish.

I went on to study medicine at St George’s Hospital Medical School in Tooting (South London). I completed an intercalated BSc in biomedical sciences, and travelled to Indiana (USA) to work at a summer camp for disabled children. In my final year I travelled to Malawi for my student elective.

After qualifying I worked in adult medicine, surgery, and A&E before settling on paediatrics. I completed my membership exams for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and gained an MSc in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

During my MSc I became interested in the role of diet and nutrition in determining health outcomes, and this has led to the development of my other website, KidsEatPlants. I also tweet @kidseatplants. I am currently completing my training in general paediatrics in the Mersey region, with a special interest in nutrition and lifestyle medicine.

In 2013 my poem ‘Artificial Rupture of Membranes’ was commended in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, and in 2014 my poem ‘Out of Hospital Arrest’ won first prize in the NHS category, with ‘Walk’ also being commended. My first collection of poetry – ‘Rupture’ – is due out from the Hippocrates Press in May/June 2015, and focuses on poems with a broadly medical theme. Meanwhile I am taking the MA in Creative Writing by Distance Learning (DLMA) at Lancaster University, and working on my next book.

I live with my partner and four-year-old twin daughters, and in what little spare time I have I enjoy running, hot yoga and Five Rhythms dance. I practice the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin with the Soka Gakkai International (UK), my house is a mess, and I have recently taken up knitting as an excuse to sit down.


About This Site

When I was a medical student I owned a floor-length purple and green velvet coat that I bought from a market in north London. I thought it was brilliant, and wore it until it fell apart. Of course by day I wore a smart white coat to visit patients on the wards, and both coats were heavily invested in different kinds of meanings for me. So when I first came across the late Dannie Abse’s poem ‘Song for Pythagorus‘, which concludes “White coat and purple coat/can each be worn in turn/but in the white a man will freeze/and in the purple burn”, I recognised the dual – difficult, sometimes irreconcilable – identities of doctor and poet that he also held.

My intention is for this site to explore the interface between literature (and the discipline of creative writing) and health in its broadest sense, encompassing the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” What can literature bring to health and healthcare, and what might health and healthcare bring to literature? This question may fall under the remit of those interested in the arts for health and wellbeing, or those interested in medical humanities as an academic subject, but equally the four universal sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death have been the wellspring of much literary, religious and scientific endeavour since time immemorial. For myself, it was the need to experience, understand and emotionally process them that took me first into medicine, and later brought me to poetry.




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