Second-year M.D./Ph.D. student Kumar Narayanan recognizes that “not a lot of emotional experience in medicine is talked about. Part of being a professional is building a little bit of a wall between you and a patient … and that’s not a bad thing.” But Narayanan still feels a need to “unpack experiences,” and he does this, in part, by writing. “Putting it down on paper or on a computer screen is a way to make something intractable, tangible. That’s the first step for me in engaging the experience.”
Narayanan’s “Reflections,” describing his evolving feelings as he performs a human dissection, is one of 28 poems, stories and personal essays (along with drawings and photographs) published earlier this year in Scope: The Yale Health Professions Literary Magazine.
Editor Ilene Wong, a third-year medical student, found the inspiration to revive the medical school’s on-again, off-again literary magazine while taking part in a writing seminar led by author and retired surgeon Richard Selzer, M.D., HS ’61. It is her hope, Wong said, that Scope will expand the community of writers the seminar has created. Reading the work of colleagues can “make people realize there are other people [writing] out there” and convey the message that “you can support and pursue your literary goals in a medical setting.”
Selzer thinks his bimonthly workshop for a dozen students accomplishes that. Students “are overwhelmed with the new technology and this distancing of the caregiver from the patient. I am reminding them that there is a whole world of literature and humanities that they can bring to bear upon their contact with the sick,” said Selzer, whose 10 books include Confessions of a Knife and Letters to a Young Doctor. “The students love it. They want to write. … I want them to be a generation of writing doctors that come after me.”
One story in the magazine describes a young doctor confronting a belligerent patient. Another meditates on a grandmother’s illness in light of a medical student’s expanding knowledge of pathology. A poem describes the use of an insulin needle to inflate worms for use as fish bait. Much of the work came from medical students, but contributors also include residents, nursing and public health students and a faculty member. Funding to print 150 copies of Scope came from the Office of Student Affairs, the Department of Internal Medicine and the Program for Humanities in Medicine.
“I was happy that people were writing and were willing to send something in,” Wong said. “I think it’s gutsy to send something into an unknown venue. It’s an act of vulnerability.”
Two M.D./Ph.D. students plan to publish another issue of Scope in the spring. They are Eyal Kimchi, a second-year student who helped with editing and layout, and classmate Jena Giltnane.