This anthology is a sequel to Pulse: The First Year (2010). Both anthologies are comprised of postings to the website “Pulse: voices from the heart of medicine,” an online publication that sends out short poems and prose pieces every Friday. As the website subtitle suggests, the topics are from the medical world, the writing is personal (not scientific), and the writers give voice to feelings and perceptions from their direct experience as care-givers, patients, or family members of patients. All the pieces are short (typically one to five pages), usually with a tight subject focus. For example, in "Touched," Karen Myers reports how massage has helped her muscular dystrophy. 

The postings in the second anthology originally appeared from April 2009 through December of 2010. Because the 87 pieces appear in the order they were published, they don’t have linear coherence. Therefore the editors of have thoughtfully provided four indices in the back of the book: by author, by title with summaries, by healthcare role, and by subject/theme.

Prose pieces vary widely in style and technique. The poems are almost all free verse, although some poets have used regular stanzas. “Depression Session,” (p. 157) is an 18-line poem by a physician about a difficult mental patient. Many of the pieces explore the intensity of medical subjects with impacts on doctor, patient, and/or family. Some of them show limits of medicine. “Pearls before swine” (p. 191) relates the experience of a third-year medical student in a rotation at the office of a racist and sexist physician. “Babel: the Voice of Medical Trauma” (p. 158) dramatically tells the story of a poorly handled birth at a hospital.  


The power and wide range of these entries is informative and moving. While some are not sophisticated in literary technique, almost all are direct, clear, and insightful about illness, medical care, and the many ways that humans may suffer and that health professionals may attempt (or not) to give technical aid and emotional support.

Cortney Davis’s comments about the first anthology are applicable here as well. “Reading these pages, I thought that the group that might most profit from these poems and essays would be medical and nursing students, those who had not yet fully stepped into the world of hospital, office, and illness. These pieces might give them hope that they did not need to wall off their emotions in order to deliver good care; this anthology might teach them, in fact, that only by opening their hearts will they survive.” The collection may also serve for literature and medicine groups at medical centers and elsewhere.           

As the writers choose their topics and submit their entries, they tend to focus on dramatic events. Readers won’t find descriptions of well baby visits, successful counseling for health promotion, and other efforts not only to prevent illness but also to increase wellbeing. We don’t have pieces celebrating integrative and epidemiological approaches for the health of individuals, subgroups, and societies at large. Nor do we read about the excitement (and trials) of research.
Because many of the pieces reflect vivid events in the past lives of the writers, they tend, as a whole, to give a rear-view mirror look at medicine, not a look down the road ahead. 

The great value of the current anthology is that is shows the complexity and difficulty of medical care as well as the heroism of those who work in the field under difficult conditions.      


To receive the Friday emails from Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, go to, where you can subscribe; there is no cost.  


Voices from the Heart of Medicine, 28 Albert Place, New Rochelle NY 10801

Place Published

New Rochelle NY




Paul Gross MD and Diane Guernsey

Page Count