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June 23/30, 1999

Poetry and Medicine

Author Affiliations

Margaret A.WinkerMD, Deputy EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Interim CoeditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 1999;281(24):2286-2287. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-281-24-jbk0623

To the Editor: In response to the statement by Dr Weissman1 lamenting that physicians do not read poetry, I would like to offer an explanation along with a local remedy.

In our society, we are addicted to outcomes. We want to publish positive results. We want professional advancement. When we contact our colleagues, we want them to act. We invest so that we can continue to improve our standard of living—most frequently measured in material terms. And we do everything we can to cure our patients or, in end-of-life settings, to keep them alive at all costs even though our compassion and common sense say to let go. No wonder that poetry has so insignificant a role in our lives. Has there ever been any evidence that literature has a measurable effect?