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July 16, 1997

The Poetry of Healing: A Doctor's Education in Empathy, Identity, and Desire

Author Affiliations

Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center Brooklyn, NY

JAMA. 1997;278(3):251. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550030091044

The medical profession is not overrepresented in the field of literature, possibly because of the demands of time, John Keats and Robert Bridges even sacrificing careers in medicine to write. A physician who does wander beyond the boundaries of scientific reporting becomes a treasured spokesperson. Even among these, many tend to the spectral, weighted toward restraint and analytic description (such as William Carlos Williams, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A. J. Cronin, Oliver Sacks, and Lewis Thomas). Possibly there's an underlying prejudice that "a physician who writes poems is certainly suspect—soft, impossible to prove."

In any case, Rafael Campo can be numbered among the limited group of physicians who write about their own medical experiences from the gut (like Richard Selzer, Marc Straus, Jon Mukand, Dannie Abse, and Perri Klass). He writes poems and essays that are both passionately advocatory and sensuously confessional.

His evolving writing was catalyzed by his

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