Physician writer  

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It is thought that through their privileged and intimate contact with those moments of greatest human drama (birth, illness, injury, suffering, disease, death) physicians are in a unique position to observe, record and create the stories that make us human.

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Physician writers are physicians who write creatively in fields outside their practice of medicine.

The following is a partial list of physician-writers by historic epoch or century in which the author was born, arranged in alphabetical order.


Why physicians write

Physicians have a long history, dating back to Greek medicine, of literary activities. This may have its origins in mythology. Apollo was the god of both poetry and medicine. Pallas Athene was the goddess of poetry, healing and war. Brigit was the Celtic patroness of poets, smiths and healers.

It is thought that through their privileged and intimate contact with those moments of greatest human drama (birth, illness, injury, suffering, disease, death) physicians are in a unique position to observe, record and create the stories that make us human. "The clinical gaze [has] much in common with the artist's eye." (McLellan, M. F. (1997). "Literature and medicine: Physician-writers". The Lancet 349 (9051): 564–7.) Robert Louis Stevenson, in his Preface to Underwoods, described this unique privilege:

There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd: the soldier, the sailor, and the shepherd not infrequently; the artist rarely; rarelier still, the clergyman; the physician almost as a rule. He is the flower (such as it is) of our civilization; and when that stage of man is done with, and only to be marvelled at in history, he will be thought to have shared as little, as any in the defects of the period, and most notably exhibited the virtues of the race. Generosity he has, such as is possible to those who practise an art, never to those who drive a trade; discretion, tested by a hundred secrets; tact, tried in a thousand embarrassments; and what are more important, Heraclean cheerfulness and courage. So that he brings air and cheer into the sick room, and often enough, though not so often as he wishes, brings healing.

The challenges of combining medical practice with writing are addressed by neurologist and pharmacologist Harold L. Klawans in his study, Chekhov's Lie.


Middle Ages

15th century

16th century

17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century

Worldwide organizations

In 1955 a group of physician-writers created the International Federation of Societies of Physician-Writers (FISEM). One of the founders was Dr. André Soubiran, author of Hommes en blanc (The Doctors). Other founders included Italian Professors Nasi and Lombroso, Belgian Drs. Sévery and Thiriet, Swiss physicians Junod and René Kaech, and eminent French writers of the medical academy. Dr. Mirko Skoficz was a key figure at the first FISEM congress in San Remo, Italy, along with his wife, Italian film star Gina Lollobrigida.

In 1973 FISEM changed its name to UMEM—Union Mondiale des Écrivains Médécins, or World Union of Physician Writers.<ref name=autogenerated1 /> Its current president is Dr. Carlos Vieira Reis of Portugal. UMEM is an umbrella organization that subsumes physician-writer groups in:

Anglophone associations

In the Anglophone world, the lead has been taken by New York University (NYU) with their encyclopedic Literature, Arts & Medicine Database. An associated resource is the Medical Humanities directory:

These sites were established in 1994 at the New York University School of Medicine and were:

“dedicated to providing a resource for scholars, educators, students, patients, and others who are interested in the work of medical humanities. We define the term ‘medical humanities’ broadly to include an interdisciplinary field of humanities (literature, philosophy, ethics, history and religion), social science (anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, sociology), and the arts (literature, theater, film, and visual arts) and their application to medical education and practice. The humanities and arts provide insight into the human condition, suffering, personhood, our responsibility to each other, and offer a historical perspective on medical practice. Attention to literature and the arts helps to develop and nurture skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection – skills that are essential for humane medical care. The social sciences help us to understand how bioscience and medicine take place within cultural and social contexts and how culture interacts with the individual experience of illness and the way medicine is practiced.”

Dr. Daniel Bryant, an American internist, has compiled an extensive list of fellow physician writers.

The Johns Hopkins University Press publishes Literature and Medicine, “a journal devoted to exploring interfaces between literary and medical knowledge and understanding. Issues of illness, health, medical science, violence, and the body are examined through literary and cultural texts.”

The British Medical Association keeps an updated, though selective, list of Physician-Writers on its web site.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Physician writer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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