Reading, writing, and doctoring: literature and medicine

Am J Med Sci. 2000 May;319(5):285-91. doi: 10.1097/00000441-200005000-00004.


Literature and medicine share an inherently enduring relationship. Doctors turn to literature--both its plots and its forms--to understand what occurs in their patients' lives, to increase their own narrative competence, to interpret accurately the texts of medicine, to develop empathy, and to deepen their capacities for reflection and self-knowledge. Together, these skills, attitudes, and bodies of knowledge contribute to the effective practice of medicine. Literature is now taught in almost three quarters of the medical schools in the United States. Different goals, agendas, and methods are appropriate at each developmental stage of a physician's training, from the premedical curriculum to the continuing education of a practicing physician. A vigorous and growing scholarship and body of experience is propelling the field of literature and medicine to understand all the more clearly how acts of reading and acts of writing might illuminate acts of doctoring.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Literature*
  • Teaching