Moving America Forward

Can Writing Poetry Make Better Doctors?

January 14, 2014
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Can Writing Poetry Make Better Doctors?
Screen grab via PBS
A doctor teaches poetry to medical students to restore compassion to their practice.

With teaching gigs at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, you would’t think Dr. Rafael Campo would have time for much else. But he’s also a poet with six published volumes to his credit, and he’s on a mission to combine his two passions. Campo believes teaching medical students to study and write poetry can imbue their work with more compassion, balancing the emphasis he feels medical schools place on teaching students to distance themselves from their patients. Campo runs a writing workshop every week for students and residents. “Sometimes facts become all-consuming in our work as docs and we may risk losing sight of some of the truths of the experience of illness, particularly from the perspective of our patients,” Campo said in a recent workshop attended by Jeffrey Brown of the PBS NewsHour. Campo described a typical moment of loss that he witnesses in his practice: “The family is sitting by the bedside. The patient hasn’t survived the arrhythmia. Don’t we still have a role as healers there?” Poet or not, it’s hard to argue with that.

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