Creative writing helps doctors cope with patient deaths, difficult cases

For physicians, who deal with life and death issues every day, poetry and other creative writing can help them process their most difficult cases, according to a STAT report.

For example, the article highlights the case of one physician who could not get the details of an infant's death that occurred 10 years earlier out of his mind. He finally turned to poetry to write about the baby and the pain he felt over not saving the child's life. 

So many physicians and healthcare professionals turn to creative writing to cope with the emotional burden of their work, that it has become its own genre, with its own literary journals and prizes, according to the article.

In the U.S., the Bellevue Literary Review is the premier publication for creative writing about medicine. The journal was founded in 2000 by doctors and has offices in Bellevue Hospital in New York City, the oldest public hospital in the country. It accepts fiction, nonfiction and poetry. In addition, there are so many submissions that it has a lower acceptance rate than the New England Journal of Medicine, according to the report.

Writing helps doctors process the many difficult situations they encounter each day, Paul Gross, M.D., the founder and editor-in-chief of the online journal Pulse, told STAT.

Finding ways to cope with the pressures of the job is critical; one recent survey indicated that nearly 90 percent of doctors are afflicted by burnout at least some of the time. Healthcare workers need to be attentive to their own physical, mental and emotional health, FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported. In fact, some health leaders have suggested the Triple Aim of healthcare should be expanded to the Quadruple Aim, which includes improving the work life of healthcare workers.

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