It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been sick, or if you’re not in the health professions, or if you’ve never had to care for family members or friends with health concerns.
All that matters is that you enjoy poetry.
I wrote a poem about the birth and of the passing away of my baby girl before I knew anything about the potential role for the humanities in medicine. I revisited that poem many times over the years and was moved each time by a sense of wonder and grief and gratitude and remembrance. Perhaps my emotions had something to do with the fact that the poem rep-resented a personal story; but then, I began to notice how other people’s experiences, couched in words that rhymed – or didn’t rhyme – had the same influence on me.
The Health Humanities Group (HHG) at the University College of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, of which I am a founding member, decided to take this powerful medium to our medical students. We met over many lunch-breaks and the group kept getting larger and larger. Called ‘Parwaaz’ – which means ‘to fly’ – the group brought together students and faculty who wrote exquisite and nuanced poetry, as well as some who did not write, but enjoyed listening to it. Parwaaz gave us first–hand experience of how a poetry collective could be used to stimulate change in attitudes and behavior towards self and towards others.
There are many reports of provider cynicism, of detachment, waning empathy, and burnout; it is evident that the provider-patient relationship is fractured and conventional methods are inadequate in addressing the problem. Poetry reading, as also the writing of it, have been found to promote patient-centered care and empathy. Its use in medical education allows learners to examine emotions and feelings – this might bridge the gap between the theoretical teaching of empathy and actually learning through experiencing it.
Based on the evidence and on my own experience, it seemed worthwhile to compile a collection of poetry that was about illness and health. I applied to The Institute for Medical Humanities (IMH), at UTMB, Galveston, Texas, with the purpose of taking this idea forward. This book took shape during my four months at IMH (now called Institute for Bioethics & Health Humanities) as a Visiting Scholar in 2019 and is thanks to the support I received while I was there.