In this remarkable book of essays, Rafael Campo explores his coming-of-age as a gay Cuban-American physician. He presents us with a series of stories illuminating his childhood and college experience, skillfully interweaving them with narratives from his life as a young physician, especially his interactions with patients dying of AIDS. We follow the author from Amherst College, through Harvard Medical School, to his medical residency in San Francisco. At each step Campo is a close observer of human character and motivation--his own and others. At each step he asks, "Who am I? Who am I becoming?"

He discovers his identity as a gay man, an Hispanic man, a poet, and, finally, as a healer--not four identities, but one. He discovers, too, the healing power of connecting with patients, the "poetry of healing," something far different from the orthodox image of the physician-as-detached-or-distanced from his patients. Though Campo rejects the concept that physicians are agents for social change ("naive," he calls it), he brings sensitivity and poetry to bear on his continued search for "some way to give."


Campo's stories are interesting, his essays well-structured, and the quality of his prose excellent. I found the struggle for self-awareness engaging, particularly the notion of becoming-aware-of-who-you-are-in-order-to-give-back.

The book's subtitle is "A Doctor's Education in Empathy, Identity, and Desire." Empathy in medicine is often portrayed as a rather pale cognitive concept, as in "I understand how you feel," with an emphasis on the "understand" rather than the "feel." Campo explodes this usage, showing the deep emotional content of his relationships with patients. Moreover, he implies that such empathic connections contribute to the healing of both the patient and physician. From this perspective The Poetry of Healing is a radical challenge to the medical orthodoxy of professional distance.


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York