Poetry and Medicine

the right brain logo at poems-and-poetry.comIn the United Kingdom, they take these things seriously enough that the National Health Service funds poets in residence at hospitals and clinics. They pay good money to put poetry in doctors” waiting rooms and bring poets in to work with patients undergoing traumatic illness. Poetry, they say, is therapeutic, and they are willing to put their money where their mouths – and pens – should be. In 2003, two junior doctors from the University of Birmingham decided to start project to celebrate and encourage creativity in life as a healthcare professional. Their intent in starting The Right Brain was to help nurture the right brain in doctors and health professionals who often must focus on the development of their more analytical left brain.

Here in the US, poetry in medicine still has a New Age-y feel to it, the sort of thing the government watchers would sneer – but there are inroads and progress. At Yale Medical School, for instance, medical students are required to take art appreciation classes because they”ve been shown to boost diagnostic skills. And at Notre Dame, the Humanities Department offers an 8 week course in prose and poetry popularly referred to as the Med Poets Society to doctors at the South Bend based Memorial Health System.


In exploring their own writing and the works of others, say the developers of the course, doctors are confronting the emotional issues they deal with every day. It”s a departure from the typical view of surgeons and specialists as impersonal and arrogan

This is about more than a few doctors getting together to write, though. Researchers in the fields of medicine and psychology believe that developing the right brain does more than awaken empathy. Writing poetry, listening to and composing music, creating and appreciating art all expand the capacity of doctors, who are taught to think in linear terms – point A leads to point B – to make intuitive leaps, to think outside the box – in short, to become better doctors.

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