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Literature & Medicine

A reading and discussion program for health care professionals.


Meghan Reedy
Program Officer
(207) 773-5051


Literature & Medicine Overview

Humanities at the Heart of Healthcare®

Encouraging health care professionals to connect the worlds of science and lived experience, giving them the opportunity to reflect on their professional roles and relationships through reading plays, short stories, poetry, fiction and personal narratives and share those reflections with colleagues.

Woman with pile of booksImagine doctors, nurses, receptionists, trustees, administrators, lab techs, PAs, with books in hand, sitting in a hospital conference room, talking about what they have read and reflecting together on what it means to them—as people, and as professionals engaged in the enterprise of health care. Thousands of health care professionals working in hospitals in 26 states have done just this since 1997, when MHC created Literature & Medicine, with more participating every year.

And what difference does it make? A hospital vice-president describes it this way: “This relatively simple concept of bringing people together to share in art has made a lasting and transformational impact to our small rural hospital and surrounding communities. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

Indeed–in our increasingly multicultural world, health care professionals can no longer rely on what they know from their own lives to understand their patients, who may be of different religious, socio-economic, or cultural backgrounds. Literature, however, offers vicarious experiences of worlds outside that of the reader, supplying full-bodied accounts of illness, death, and human relationships in all places and among all peoples. This is why the field of medical humanities is growing nationally, and why the integration of literature into medical education is becoming commonplace.

Group of people listeningLiterature & Medicine,  which to presented at the White House in 2011 as an exemplary humanities program benefitting veteransencourages participants to connect the worlds of science and lived experience, giving them the opportunity to reflect on their professional roles and relationships through reading plays, short stories, poetry, fiction and personal narratives in a setting where they can share their reflections with colleagues. It has a significant effect on the way participants understand their work, and their relationships with patients and with each other. It is also an innovative and cost-effective way to improve patient care, as observed by a hospital administrator: “The reflection and conversation that takes place in the process greatly enhances the level of cooperation, collaboration and esprit de corps within our hospital family and our community at large. This impetus in turn greatly improves the quality of care we provide to our patients and their families.”



  • “This helped foster communication across the hierarchy of medical culture, which was great and much needed.”


  • "The book group was an excellent opportunity to come together as a staff
    and talk about issues of concern that we don't often get an opportunity
    during school-sponsored workshops to discuss."


  • "I found myself feeling better connected to the day to day issues
    affecting the many young people I have had the good fortune to teach."


  • “I am amazed by how differently we read these books. It makes me wonder how differently we hear our patients’ stories. And how our patients perceive us.”


  • “I now think about what people are feeling when they approach my desk, and I am more conscious of the fact that I am the first person they speak to when they come to the hospital.”

    -Hospital Receptionist

  • “I always knew my role [as a nurse] was valuable, but I think I more fully understand how far-reaching that can be. I have learned how important it is to listen to each individual, to hear what their need is and also to hear the needs of the extended family."


  • "Our staff is often without opportunities to have deep, professional
    discussions outside of our departments. This is such a shame. This
    experience was a chance to know and share time with colleagues who I don't
    often see or spend time with. There is one colleague who I have had some
    trouble with... we have very different outlooks. I have come to understand
    a bit more about where she is coming from, which has encouraged me to seek
    her out on a couple of occasions to check in informally. I have felt
    better about this relationship, and I believe that the exposure through
    this group has been what has sparked a change."


  • “The program helps me reaffirm the need to attempt to bring a supportive healing attitude to my work area.”


  • “I joined this group due to burnout. Burnout is not about waiting until you feel like you can’t do your job—it’s constantly asking yourself what you are doing and feeling and helping prevent burnout from occurring by paying attention every day, not waiting until too late.”


Funded By:

The Hospice Fund and the Welch Charitable Fund

at the Maine Community Foundation

Maine Community Foundation logo

NEH logo