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The Arts and Medicine
April 17, 2018

Exploring the Surgical Gaze Through Literature and Art

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Hanover and Lebanon, New Hampshire
  • 2Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
JAMA. 2018;319(15):1532-1534. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0396

We—an internist specializing in palliative care (K.B.K.) and a medical anthropologist (S.R.C.)—recently spent a year training surgery interns in the use of narrative medicine techniques to influence their development as compassionate surgeons. In twice-monthly seminars that were part of a mandatory first-year didactic curriculum, we presented the trainees with short texts, usually poems or fictional excerpts but sometimes paintings or photographs. We used open-ended questions to nurture their close readings of plot, form, language, and imagery through group conversation and writing exercises. Our goal was to take them far from their conventional training in operating rooms and hospital wards into a space where they could grow their proficiency in perspective-taking and build their tolerance for ambiguity, skills overlooked in many medical school and residency curricula.