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A Piece of My Mind
July 9, 2008

A Medical Humanist Says Good-bye

Author Affiliations

A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2008;300(2):149-150. doi:10.1001/jama.300.2.149

I click on the word New. My name and e-mail address appear in the space titled “From.” Where the computer asks to whom the message is being addressed, I identify “The Medical Staff.”

I type in “A Medical Humanist Says Good-bye” as the subject. I press Enter, which takes me to the blank screen. How do I say good-bye? The word itself is easy to say. Putting the experience to the word is not.

Where do I begin?

I think back to 2002 when I proposed a new concept to an oncologist and CEO of the hospital to include a nonmedically trained writer as a member of the interdisciplinary health care team at a regional cancer center in Vermont. Why a writer? The differences in language used by most physicians and patients can impede communication, a key component of optimal care. A writer understands the impact of words and how language shapes experience. I am that writer. A review of my work described me as a poet who writes stories. The poet's function is to speak of the encounter.1 The encounter I would come to speak of was that between physician and patient.