Melanie P. Merriman, PhD is a research scientist turned hospice quality consultant turned non-profit foundation grant evaluator who finally gave in to her lifelong desire to write. Her choice of careers and projects stems from a passion to illuminate, understand, and find meaning. She is the author of Holding the Net: Caring for My Mother on the Tightrope of Aging, winner of American Book Fest’s 2017 Best Book Award for Autobiography/Memoir. Melanie’s articles and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, ThirdAge.com and NextAvenue.org. She is co-author of Merriman’s Hawaii: The Chef, The Farmers, The Food, The Islands, a cookbook with stories about Chef Peter Merriman. Melanie and her husband, Klein, split their time between South Florida and Cape Cod, MA.
Read more about Melanie in her own words…
My love affair with books began in first grade. Mrs. Worth put up a piece of poster board, listed each student’s name down the left side, and then drew a line across the page under each name. This was our virtual bookshelf. Every time we finished a book, we received a tiny slip of colorful construction paper, the shape of a book spine, to paste onto our shelf. By the time I filled my shelf, only four months into the school year, I had become a bibliophile. I reveled in the stories of children from other countries, animals who could talk, and little girls who were so like me in some ways, and so different in others.
In third grade, I started writing, and I published my first poem–in the Glen Forest Elementary News. It was my only successful venture into creative writing during my school years. Although I remained a reader in high school and college, I found that I had an affinity for mathematics and biology. My left brain took over, and my first career was as a research scientist. Of course I wrote academic papers, but I found myself drawn to creative writing as well. Every once in a while, a poem would overtake me, but mostly, I suppressed my creative urges.
After ten years as a professor and researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine, I became disillusioned with an academic career. I began to feel that my work was too far removed from any real impact on people’s lives. I’d spent my life becoming a scientist, so I explored technology transfer, which focuses on finding scientific advances that are ready for practical application and then connects scientists with the business community. I knew the scientific side, but felt I needed to learn the business side.
I enrolled in the Executive MBA program at The University of Miami School of Business and focused on healthcare administration. I took classes on Saturdays, while still running my laboratory at the Medical School. Happily, I found that most of my research skills—linear thinking, data gathering, analysis, and clear, technical writing—were immanently transferable. I loved business school because it offered me lots of options, and one of them became my next career, in hospice care.
For six years, I worked for VITAS Healthcare Corporation and eventually became Director of Quality and Compliance. When I left, I formed Touchstone Consulting and began working with hospices across the country on quality measurement. (A touchstone is a piece of fine-grained dark schist or jasper used for testing the quality of alloys of gold by observing the color of the mark they make on it; it refers to a standard or criterion by which something is judged or recognized.)
I loved the variety of working as a consultant. Among other projects, I helped hospices assess and improve quality; evaluated national projects to improve end-of-life care (funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation); facilitated strategic planning for The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; and worked with Community Health Centers to improve quality. I also co-wrote two quality manuals for hospice programs.
And all that time, I thought about creative writing, and I read about creative writing, and I talked about creative writing. Until one day, I realized that I couldn’t put it off any longer, and I signed up for a creative writing class. I’ve been writing steadily now since 2012, and have no plans to stop.