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Special Announcements

Don’t miss the 5th Literature & Medicine Training Institute—Chicago, June 25-28, 2009

Join us in the heart of downtown Chicago to learn everything you need to know to launch a successful Literature & Medicine program! A participant at a previous Institute said, ‘I left energized and ready to start a program at my hospital’.' You will, too. Special speakers include Major Tammy Duckworth, Assistant Secretary of Public & Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs and Brian Turner, award-winning poet and author of Here, Bullet ::: read the whole article

Echoes of War—Our Latest Literature and Medicine Anthology

Echoes of War is the second anthology created by the Maine Humanities Council for Literature & Medicine. The first, Imagine What It’s Like, is a collection of poems, essays, and short stories from a variety of perspectives, and raises issues relevant to L&M groups. Echoes of War continues in that tradition, with an emphasis on readings particularly relevant to those caring for veterans.

Echoes of War will be an important resource for the new VA L&M groups. VAMC staff, particularly those who are not veterans, may have difficulty imagining both what the experiences of their patients might have been and the special challenges they might now be facing. Literature related to soldiers’ experiences can help their caregivers better appreciate their patients’ circumstances, improving their care. This is crucial because, as surgeon Atul Gawande writes in his essay, “Casualties of War," “We have never faced having to rehabilitate people with such extensive wounds. We are only beginning to learn what to do to make a life worth living possible for them.”

Echoes of War editor Suzanne Hunter Brown discusses the selections she included and the issues they raise in her essay for Inside Out in this issue of Synapse.

Here is a sampling of what you will find in Echoes of War:
  • Short Stories:
  • “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich
  • “Out of the Snow” by Andre Dubus
  • “My Heart is Broken” by Mavis Gallant
  • “Bev Brown” by Sybil Smith
  • Essays:
  • “Winthrop Cohen” by Arthur Kleinman
  • “How We Age” by Atul Gawande
  • “Service”: Photographs by Platon
  • Poetry:
  • “The Promise” by Veneta Masson
  • “Porter” by Marilyn Nelson
  • “AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Song)” by Brian Turner.
Read more about Echoes of War and see full table of contents.

Literature & Medicine Evaluation Results

Literature & Medicine program evaluator Dr. Bruce Clary of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, recently compiled data from evaluations completed by L&M participants over a three-year period. According to Dr. Clary, results from the surveys conducted at the end of the L&M programs each year correspond closely, indicating that the program has had a consistent and positive impact on participants between 2005-2008. Participants reported a great or medium increase in:

Empathy for patients79%
Interpersonal skills64%
Communication skills58%
Job satisfaction62%
Cultural awareness67%

In his report, Clary states that participants’ open-ended comments on the effects of the program on the workplace environment indicated the broad impact that L&M has on its participants both personally and professionally. Importantly, participants were able to give many examples of how actual events in their professional lives were influenced by the readings and discussions. He finds this significant and suggests that the program is a model for institutions for education around cultural issues and other areas of personal and professional growth and development. He writes:

In reflecting on these outcomes, it is noteworthy the impact that the Program has had on empathy toward patients and other caregivers. This dimension encompasses elements of personal and professional growth not easily taught through training and development workshops. The [L&M] program has made a significant contribution, adding to professional development in this area. Further, measurable gains were made in the area of cultural awareness. Issues related to diversity in the workplace have proven to be difficult organizational challenges, not just in the medical, but all fields. The approach used by the Program should be seriously examined by health organizations as a way to increase understanding and communication in diverse employment settings.

Finally, there is significant evidence from the participant’s perspective that the approach employed in the Literature & Medicine program should be an important part of programming within the medical field focused on professional growth and development.

Read the full report [pdf] by Dr. Clary.

Selected participant comments from the 2008 evaluations:

I had an encounter with a woman who had end-stage ovarian cancer. She had been adamantly refusing any discussion of hospice/palliative care with her M.D. I had the opportunity to see her for a few hours in the out-patient setting and developed a rapport by listening to her. I was able to broach the subject of hospice and had a hospice nurse explain more to her. I think I was more aware of her underlying needs and concerns and was able to connect with her when other health professionals had not. This might have been due to heightened awareness as a result of the Program.

We read the book Nurse... I have worked in ICU and related to the nurses in the book ... [after I read this] I acknowledged it is ok to say I can’t do more, I need a break, a few weeks off from work, for my own health and [to reduce my] stress. I can’t say enough how grateful I am for this program.

After reading The Spirit Catches You, I was able to re-evaluate a project that we are working on, i.e., a DVD focusing upon the access to healthcare for the Somali community. I looked at the video through a Somali refugee’s mind, rather than my own cultural standards.

Remembering Marli Weiner
Marli Weiner Marli Weiner

Marli Weiner, Professor of History at the University of Maine and a strong Literature & Medicine supporter, died on March 2, 2009. Not only was Marli co-facilitator for the very first Literature & Medicine program (held at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine in 1997), she facilitated for three different hospitals over her 12 years working with the program. A long time L&M participant at Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth wrote this of her experience with Marli:

Over the years I think we taught each other a lot. This incredible woman has left an indelible mark on our facility, and through her work has touched many lives in Hancock and Washington counties—this through assisting care providers at many agencies to be more empathetic and collaborative. ::: read the whole article

Welcome to California, Nevada, New York, South Dakota & Argentina!

We are very happy that California, Nevada, New York, South Dakota and Argentina are now Literature & Medicine partners! Learn what is happening in each partner state in National Connections.


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Literature & Medicine has received major support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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