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Writing Center takes humanity discussion to community

by Tom Smith, Ph.D.
CAE/Writing Center
“The poem is strong medicine,” writes poet Veneta Masson in her collection of poetry titled “Clinician’s Guide to the Soul: Poems on Nursing, Medicine, Illness and Life.” Her words argue for the importance writing can play in health care, an argument made by medical humanists and a health care movement called “narrative medicine.”
In early September, Masson will come to Charleston to participate in a two-day program designed by MUSC Writing Center faculty to foster new conversations about the humanistic elements of health care. The interactive program aims to stimulate dialogue about the value of the humanities in patient and caregiver relationships and to engage the community in an ongoing effort to share stories of illness and healing.
As a nurse and poet, Masson is regularly invited to participate in similar programs around the country. Asked why she values the use of the humanities in health care, Masson replied, “Our full humanity often remains untouched by what science and technology can offer. Sometimes they can cure, but they do not heal.”
She also sees that health care is a field already full of the stories that we call the humanities in any other situation. “Much of what we do as clinicians and caregivers is based on story. The story our patients tell us about their symptoms, the story the patient’s body tells, the story we call the patient’s chart and the stories we clinicians tell each other to sustain us.”
She uses her own reading and writing of stories and poetry in her work with caregivers to add breadth and depth to their understanding of sickness, suffering, recovery, birth and death. “I’m also drawn to poems and stories that help me endure and understand my own personal and family crises.”
Observing the trend in health care toward greater use of the humanities to educate providers, Masson points out that hospitals are full of stories and poetry. She recalled what the literary critic Anatole Broyard observed when he was dying of prostate cancer: “A hospital is full of wonderful and terrible stories…and if I were a doctor (or nurse), I would read them as one reads good fiction and let them educate me.”
During her visit, she and Writing Center faculty have planned two events to engage the Charleston and MUSC communities in a discussion of the importance of creativity in illness and healing, as well as the value of story and poetry for health care providers and caregivers. The following two, free programs, which are open to the public, have been planned:
  • Sept. 2, 6 - 7:30 p.m.: “Creative Responses to Illness and Healing,” Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun St., featuring the importance of storytelling in health care, and how stories of both patients and caregivers improve patient-caregiver relationships and foster healing.
  • Sept. 3, Noon - 2 p.m.: “The Poetry of Caretaking,” 2W Amphitheater, University Hospital, a discussion about the value of humanities to professional health care workers and other caregivers. 
Writing Center faculty, who also teach interprofessional humanities courses and conduct workshops on narrative medicine at MUSC, view this project as a way to reach out to a community that is longing for better health care.
To see an online collection of writings, visit

Friday, Jan. 15, 2010

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