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Published On March 6, 2020

Podcast: The Examination of a Poem

How can literature serve medicine? An interview with the first “writer-in-residence” at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Writing and medicine are both careers that demand years of practice and a passionate commitment. But history is punctuated with people, like poet William Carlos Williams, who have managed to do both.

“When I started writing, which was mid career medically, I thought I was 'chasing two hares,'” says primary care physician Suzanne Koven, a reference to a famous complaint from fellow physician/writer Antov Chekov. “Now the two jobs really just feel one and the same to me, in that storytelling really is the foundation of medicine.”

Koven now runs a discussion group drawing members from all over the hospital—nurses, surgeons, technicians, sanitation workers. They read a work of literature and find connections to the work they do. Koven believes that literature can hold lessons for anyone in the field.

“You’re taking people who are very communicative, very curious about other people, very empathic in general, and you put them in a room one on one with a patient, and there’s very intimate material that’s spoken of,” says Koven. “Then, other than in the driest sense, the health care worker is not permitted to discuss this.”

Listen to the Proto podcast here and subscribe to future episodes on iTunes, Stitcher and other platforms.

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The Examination of a Poem