This is a collection of 91 poems on medical topics by medical students, physicians in training, and attending physicians; two are Canadian and the rest American. The poems are organized by six traditional groups of medical training and advancement in the profession: Medical Student, First Year; Medical Student, Second Year, Medical Student, Clinical Years; Intern; Resident; and Attending. There are no sections for pre-meds, retired doctors, or other programs (naturopath, chiropractor).

The editors have done a good job of picking well crafted and evocative poems. A dozen have been previously published. For the most part, the poems are short, easily fitting on one page. Almost all are in free verse, although there is one group of haiku, one prose poem, and an impressive sequence of ten Shakespearean sonnets “Breughel at Bellevue” by Anna Reisman.

Many poems treat dramatic moments in training: the anatomy lab, first gynecological exams, physician-patient relationships, especially when a patient is gravely ill or dying. Several poems in the first three sections comment on the differences between the normal social world and the intense medical world of the hospital. Throughout there are references to the pressures of high-tech, unfeeling medicine. Indeed Jack Coulehan sounds this theme in his introduction; he writes that "steadiness and tenderness" are both needed in medical practice.



This is a fine and useful contribution to the growing literature of physician-poets. The technical quality is high throughout, but some work is especially fine, notably work by Richard M. Berlin, Catharine Clark-Sayles, Allen Peterkin, Renee Rossi, Audrey Shafer, Parker Towle, and Kelley Jean White.

Given that American medicine is largely interventional, there are many poems about injury, illness, and death, but no poems about well baby visits, routine physicals, or other aspects of preventive medicine. The poets focus on events that have been vivid for them, and most of these have to do with loss of function, health, and life itself. The settings are usually hospitals. While there are some behavioral insights into patients, there’s not much about psycho-social medicine and almost nothing about complementary or integrative medicine.

The poets grapple with their emotional responses to what they see in hospitals, but medical culture does not provide them with ways of using these emotions in their healing work. While younger poets grapple with limits of medicine, an older poet, Jack Coulehan, contributes a poem that celebrates the mystery of unpredictable patients. A short Afterword by physician poet John Stone closes the volume.


Eight black & white photos by Ken Kao give vivid close-up views of hospital life.


BOA Editions

Place Published

Rochester, N.Y.




Neeta Jain, Dagan Coppock & Stephanie Brown Clark

Page Count