From Reading to Healing: Teaching Medical Professionalism through Literature

Stagno, SusanBlackie, Michael

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-30-2019
  • Last revised: May-30-2019


The subtitle of this collection explicitly states its purpose and implies its audience. The content includes essays on teaching, as well as a number of canonical stories taught in medical humanities courses. The first section consists of key texts that present a rationale for teaching narrative literature to medical and other health professions students. This is followed by five sections, each of which covers an aspect of that rationale, i.e. narrative exploration of  professional boundaries, empathy and respect, authority and duty, stigma, and truth-telling and communication.  

Within each section, several essays describe teaching considerations or techniques, often focusing on a specific story or novel. For example, in “A Novel Approach to Narrative Based Professionalism: The Literature Classroom in Medical Education” by Pamela Schaff and Erika Wright (p. 72), the authors describe how Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration stimulates discussion of doctor-patient antipathy, doctor-patient intimacy, and interprofessional communication. From Reading to Healing also includes the full text of many stories relevant to the essays; for example, “Toenails” (Richard Selzer),“The Most Beautiful Woman in Town” (Charles Bukowski), “The Speckled Rash” (Mikhail Bulgakov), “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” (Leo Tolstoy), “The Use of Force” (William Carlos Williams) and “The Birthmark” (Nathaniel Hawthorne). 

In addition to stories and novels, From Reading to Healing presents essays on teaching with film, religious literature, and even comics, cf. “Assisting Students in the Creation of a Class Oath Using Comics,” by Michael Redinger, Cheryl Dickson, and Elizabeth Lorbeer (p. 217)


This collection is a useful addition to “literature and medicine” pedagogy. It is clearly designed for teachers, rather than students, and might be particularly helpful to health professionals who teach medical humanities seminars or courses, but do not have an academic humanities background. The inclusion of short stories (or in the case of The Death of Ivan Ilych, a novella) is a convenient feature, although almost all of these texts are readily available elsewhere.


Kent State University Press

Place Published

Kent, Ohio



Page Count