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Literature & Medicine

A reading and discussion program for health care professionals.


Lizz Sinclair
Program Director
(207) 773-5051


Literature & Medicine Resources


Literature & Medicine readings are carefully selected by the scholars who facilitate our groups, in consultation with MHC staff and the host site’s liaison. They include works of fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction that represent a diverse variety of voices and perspectives. All of the readings raise issues pertinent to caring for people, whether they are well, sick, or dying.

Echoes of War book coverEchoes of War: A Literature and Medicine Anthology (2009)

Edited by Suzanne Hunter Brown. Available for purchase directly from MHC for $15.00. Contact Meghan Reedy if you are interested in purchasing copies.

Created as a reader for health care professionals working in Veterans Administration Medical Centers, the selections focus on issues unique to, or more acute for, Soldiers. Nevertheless, any group of health care professionals can benefit from the readings, both because all health care facilities will increasingly see Veterans, and because “Veterans’ issues” often illuminate general medical concerns. We hope, too, that the general public will appreciate these readings as a way to better understand the experience of the men and women who serve in the armed forces.

The anthology includes work by: Anna Brashler, Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Louise Erdrich, George Garrett, Atul Gawande, Arthur Kleinman, Nancy Mairs, Marilyn Nelson, Veneta Masson, Platon, John Stone, Brian Turner, and several other authors and poets.

Download a copy of the Table of Contents.

Favorite Literature & Medicine readings


  • W;t by Margaret Edson
  • The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney
  • Medical Reader’s Theater: A Guide and Scripts ed. T.L. Savitt


  • “A Nurse’s Story” from A Nurse’s Story and Others by Peter Baida
  • Regeneration by Pat Barker
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver
  • “He’s at the Office” by Allan Gurganus
  • “In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel
  • Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison
  • You Are Not A Stranger Here by Adam Haslett
  • The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen
  • “People Like That Are the Only People Here” from Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
  • “Milk” by Eileen Pollack
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
  • Lying Awake by Mark Salzman
  • The Round House by Louise Erdritch
  • Ceremony by Leslie Maemon Silko
  • The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Doctor Stories by William Carlos Williams


  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • Where Is the Mango Princess by Cathy Crimmins
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  • Better and Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
  • Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
  • Nurses at the Front: Writing the Wounds of the Great War by Margaret R. Higonnet
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  • Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America by Jonathan Shay
  • Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams


  • “Case History” by Dannie Abse
  • All of Us: The Collected Poems by Raymond Carver
  • Without by Donald Hall
  • Otherwise: Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon
  • Rehab at the Florida Avenue Grill, poems by Veneta Masson
  • The Book of Job trans. Stephen Mitchell
  • “Report from the Hospital” by Wislawa Szymborska

Short Stories/Essays/Poetry

  • Between the Heart Beats: Poetry & Prose by Nurses edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer
  • POWDER: Writing by Women in the Ranks, From Vietnam to Iraq,Lisa Bowden and Shannon Cain, editors, 2008.


  • “My expectations for increased communications, better understanding of health care issues, need to change, creative ideas for improving care were exceeded. The participants expressed gratitude and awe for what the seminar brought to them and how the concepts discussed changed their behavior and way of thinking about others/ patients.”

    -Literature & Medicine participant

  • “This is the best team building activity we've ever done.”

    -Literature & Medicine participant

  • “These discussions have significantly reordered how I think about medicine.”

    -Literature & Medicine participant

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

    -Literature & Medicine participant

  • “Surgeons commune with nurses from our long-term care facility; secretaries speak with equal voice to administrators; laboratory technicians give their viewpoint to obstetricians. In short, [Literature & Medicine] has greatly improved communications among participating employees, and has also improved communications with patients.”

    -Literature & Medicine participant

  • “Both patients and providers are crying out for health care to become more humane....This project can help to restore the heart and soul of health care that so many of us believe has been weakened.”

    -Physician participant

  • “[O]ur discussions have significantly reordered how I think about medicine. I live with the experience of the protagonist in one of William Carlos Williams’ Doctor Stories, a physician who acted without listening. I do not want to be like him. I am learning to sit quietly and listen.”

    -Physician, Maine

  • “I was really burned out when I started this and I did not realize I had some of the biases that I had. And I think the readings helped me get some of those behind me a little bit. And I think I am a better nurse now...I have my patience back and tolerance and a little better understanding of some people that I probably would have judged differently before.”

    -Nurse, North Carolina

  • “Both patients and providers are crying out for health care to become more humane...[T]his project can help to restore the heart and soul of health care that so many of us believe has been weakened.”

    -Seminar participant, Maine

  • “[I joined the program because I] had been working in the ER and felt like I had lost my own humanity; I wanted to relearn how to think and talk.

    -Nurse, Vermont

  • “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.”

    -Physician, Maine

  • “[The seminars are important because they get] medical providers to the table—they have so little time for thought about the humanities. We (some of us) work in a culture where emotional expression is not encouraged.”

    -Hospital Administrator, Massachusetts

  • “This year again the literature dealt with the deepest issues of the human soul across cultures. To read the prose of great writers expands and nourishes us profoundly. To have an opportunity to discuss these works with others again takes us to the limitations of our own perspective.”

    -Social Worker, Maine

  • “The program really impacted my communication [particularly] the one reading about the little girl with epilepsy and how her family didn't understand it. They were from another country. We have a lot of Spanish and...Vietnamese people around us every day and it makes me wonder now, did they understand? I have changed how I approach them and their understanding of their care.”

    -Nurse, North Carolina

  • “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, Maine

  • “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."

    -Nurse, Maine

  • “A truly remarkable experience—it feels wonderful to come back to why I was attracted to medicine in the beginning and to share dialogue with others who care.”

    -Seminar participant, Maine

  • “I think it’s valuable to have our relatively “safe” world turned upside down by really thinking about these issues that might not be part of our daily lives. Thank you for offering the program.”

    -Dietician, Massachusetts

  • “This has helped me see medical issues through other people’s eyes; it has broadened my thinking and horizons.”

    -Nurse, North Carolina

  • “The project is very valuable. I have learned so much about human frailty and how we deal with it in our structured environment. I believe that this is important to everyone. I would like to see more of this throughout our industry.”

    -Hospital Administrator, Maine

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

    -Nurse, Maine

  • “[The seminars] provide a wonderful opportunity/space to discuss attitudes, bias, assumptions, and various belief systems in a safe environment.”

    -Education Director, Maine

  • “I was really burned out and I was feeling like I was at the point of leaving oncology. And there was one story in particular [that we read in the program] about an AIDS patient and the doctor feeling like he had nothing to offer—sometimes we feel like we don’t have anything to offer. That is how I felt—I now feel connected and feel like I’m not so all alone—I really needed that. And I feel like this group has probably kept me in oncology. I have been able to share when I see others go through these burn out symptoms.”

    -Nurse, North Carolina

  • “The subject matter of the books we read, as well as the discussions that occurred, has often helped me personally in my hospital social work. Listening to other perspectives and interpretations of various topics helps be to be more empathetic to diverse points of view.”

    -Social Worker, Maine

  • “I have come to understand that my beliefs are not necessarily the beliefs of the patients. I have more empathy toward the patients and more understanding of their family members. It has helped me to be more open to other people’s viewpoints and that everyone has the right to make choices that they feel are right when it comes to their own health.”


  • “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.”


  • “I have a greater awareness of the impact I can have [as a health care professional] and I really make sure that my patients’ needs, aside from physical, are met. I am also more aware of cultural needs and how to help patients work within their culture to meet their health care needs.”


Funded By:

The Hospice Fund and the Welch Charitable Fund

at the Maine Community Foundation

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