Caring for the Caregiver logo


Literature & Medicine

A reading and discussion program for health care professionals.


Meghan Reedy
Program Officer
(207) 773-5051


VA Initiative

Literature & Medicine in Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals

Soldier speakingVA hospitals present their dedicated professionals with one of the most challenging settings in health care. Not only are the resources of VA facilities under great strain, but the needs and number of their patients are increasing every day. The Veterans they care for may struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), severe physical disabilities, substance abuse, chronic illness, homelessness, poverty, and a system that at times is not able to meet their needs. Unfortunately, the Veterans’ frustration can be directed at those who care for them.


The humanities can make a difference in this setting, as we have seen in the Maine and Vermont VA hospitals. The Chief of Staff at Maine’s Togus VA Medical Center wrote: “I have first hand knowledge of the value of this program to the staff of the VA Medical Center in Augusta, Maine. I am convinced that the reading and discussion of these works has enhanced our staff’s empathy for the veterans we serve, and has reduced the potential of provider burn-out.” Man and a woman VA Literature and Medicine participantsA physician from the White River Junction, Vermont, VA, a national trauma center, writes: “The Literature & Medicine group attracts a range of people at the hospital who might not have much opportunity to talk and reflect with one another. This is very important, especially as the VA is undergoing a lot of changes. We are all being tested and stressed in new ways as we move from treating a primarily geriatric population who faced combat years ago to veterans in their 20’s, many with young families, who may only have been out of the war for a few weeks. This shift raises many ethical issues and demands a change in our approach. The Literature & Medicine group provides an outlet for us all to talk about these issues, and this is very helpful.”

The humanities councils that have partnered with Maine to take Literature & Medicine to a VA facility within their state include: Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont.

Veterans Programming

Inspired by MHC’s work in VA facilities, the Veterans Program serves Veterans directly with book groups and related humanities programming.



  • “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