When I was at Stanford, we were given a poem to read by Stephen A. Schmidt titled, “A Piece of My Mind. When You Come Into My Hospital Room” taken from the Journal of American Medical Association. The discussion that ensued afterwards with the class made me realize just how much value physicians, healthcare professionals and patients can derive from the art of the humanities.
The physicians in my class commented how for them, exposure to literature and poetry helped sharpen listening, attentiveness, observation and analytical skills. There has long been evidence to support that exposure to literature and writing during residency training can influence how medical students approach their clinical work.
Realistically speaking however, the rigors of medical school with anatomy, physiology, pathology, immunology, microbiology are all too time consuming to allow for merely a short class on literature. Those who are interested in it will pursue it more and will gain the benefits from it. Nevertheless, the hope is to expose physicians more to literature and writing in order to increase empathy and intuition.
However, in today’s climate, where there has been increasing incidents of physician burnout, we often hear more about physicians who don’t communicate well to their patients or who don’t have the time to touch and examine a patient. Can we truly expect a doctor to have the time to listen and pay attention to the details of a patient’s narrative with the same intensity as they would if they were reading a great novel?
It begged me to ask the question, then can leaders in the same way develop the compassionate instincts of their managers and healthcare professionals through literature and writing? I would say yes! It is not new that management teams have organized book clubs, reading inspiring pieces on the human experience or on business and sharing their insights with one another.
We have to remember that every patient has a unique story that is personal and that is something we will not know upfront. To better treat the chronically ill and severely acutely ill patient is to empathize with them and treat them in a humanistic level.
In the end, we know that for those of us who work in healthcare helping relieve the pain and suffering of those in need, we are privileged to ask, listen and learn about the unique personal stories of our patients.
My favorite part of Schmidt’s poem is at the end where he writes;
“When you come into my room, you need to sustain my hope
You need to know that I believe love wins over hate, hope over despair, life over death
that I hope against hope
that I pray and believe prayer heals
that some days I am able to make meaning of suffering
that I am more gentle, more compassionate, better with dying, more loving, more sensitive, deeper in grief and in joy
Sit at my “mourning bench” if you are my physician listen to me, talk truthfully to me
you need to know all this if you want to heal me
And bear my rage about my disease that I will never be cured
that my daughter has Crohn’s disease and is only 33 years old
that she too has had her first surgery and lives with many of my feelings
and I am angry and sad
And support my hope
that tomorrow there may be new medicines
that today you care deeply
that you will do your best
When you come into my hospital room, promise me presence
promise me a healing partnership
keep hope alive
it is all I have.”
When You Come Into My Room, Stephen A. Schmidt, EdD, JAMA.1996;276(7):512. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540070008002 – August 21, 1996