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Open Access Publications from the University of California

On the Use of Poetry in Medical Education


Poetry can be a powerful tool in teaching students and residents interpersonal and scientific aspects of clinical medicine. Advantages of using poetry include emotional intensity, succinct, portable formulations and communication of encompassing, ‘existential’ truths. Limitations include learners’ lack of familiarity with the medium of poetry, and the need to negotiate multiple, complex meanings. In addition, the indirection and multiple meanings of poetry require a different interpretive approach and mindset than one put forth by a scientific model of inquiry. Applicable poetry can be found in standard collections, but which poems are used often depends on the individual instructors’ preferences and personal reading experience. They can be incorporated into different teaching settings, such as lectures or seminars, depending on the application. Poems can be used to explore questions relating to the nature of the medical profession. They can also be used to explore broader clinical topics, or to highlight a focused clinical point. Several examples are provided in this paper. Overall, poetry can enhance clinical learning by honing emotion, psychological insights, and observational skills.

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