fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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August 2018

Right Coat Ceremony

Shadi Ahmadmehrabi ~

It was my first day of orientation at medical school. In a hallway stood a coat rack overflowing with white garments. I set down my accumulated papers, reached for a hanger and, for the first time ever, shrugged first one arm and then the other into a white coat.

It was too large, but I had no other options. The unisex coats ran from XXS to XXL, but the smallest had all been claimed.

As I clumsily buttoned my coat on the right (women’s coats button on the left), I couldn’t help seeing this as a physical reminder that, as my mentors had warned, medicine continues to be male-dominated, and that I’d need to pick my battles.

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That Is All

Scott Wilson ~


Take her breath, still her heart, and
clean her body out with a spoon.
Wring her spirit in the river and
place her eyes beside the moon.

Fold up her memories in a dresser and
frame her smile in the sky.
Turn up her laughter in the darkness and
let her freckles start to fly.

Smoke her love out with tobacco and
sow her kindness into the seas.
Diffuse her voice upon the mountains and
pollinate her sorrow with the bees.

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About the artist:

Mary T. Shannon is a psychotherapist specializing in using writing and art as adjunctive treatment tools. She recently completed her memoir For Girls Like Me and is now working on a short-story collection, All I’ve Ever Wanted to Say. 

About the artwork:

“This photograph was taken in San Diego and is one I have looked at a lot recently, as my father-in-law is now in hospice care. The photo reminds me that death is part of life’s journey. Even as we splinter and dance around death, desperate to hang on or to let go, it is a common thread we all share.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

Sunset Read More »

Four Floppy Ears

He was my first encounter with a comatose patient.

How does one communicate with an unconscious body? With tubes and wires and braces. He was fragile. He’d suffered a diffuse nerve injury and faced an unknown prognosis, yet his family was pleading for a hint of recovery as we were preparing to transfer him to a rehabilitation facility later that day.

He lay motionless on the stretcher while I awaited the arrival of transport staff to wheel him away.

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Zachary Reese ~

“Does a rock float on water?” I asked the haggard woman lying in the ICU bed.

I was an intern, in the first rotation of my medical residency, and Mrs. Jones had been my ICU team’s patient for the past week. Over that time, she’d looked more and more uncomfortable, constantly gesturing for her breathing tube to be removed.

Mrs. Jones tried to form words in response to my question, but the plastic tube in her mouth prevented it. Her chest rose and fell in rhythm with the ventilator’s hiss as the machine pumped air into her lungs; her muscles were too weak to do the work themselves.

After several attempts at speaking, she gave up and shook her head. No.

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Susceptible to Stroke?

I have met a lot of anxious people in my professional work teaching math to adults. Ever calm and patient, I would work with math-anxious students to help them manage the often-overwhelming anxiety they felt trying to make sense of a subject I loved, trying to help them feel more at ease taking tests. We’d talk about strategies to help them relax their minds and bodies so they could access all the knowledge I knew they had inside.

As for myself, feeling anxious wasn’t part of who I thought I was.

Susceptible to Stroke? Read More »


Lisa Burr ~

It was another simmering-hot Texas day, and the AC was faltering in the family-practice clinic where I worked as a family nurse practitioner. Most of our clients were poor and spoke only Spanish.

My nurse, Eliza, approached, wide-eyed.

“There’s a new patient–a woman named Maraby. She seems really angry,” she murmured. “She’s the color of Dijon mustard, and she’s wearing a long, heavy wool cape. She looks like she’s nine months pregnant with triplets. There’s a man with her, but he’s not saying anything.”

Gingerly, I entered the exam room. Maraby, a tall woman, sat staring at the floor. Her partner, Darren, stood to one side. When I glanced his way, he anxiously averted his eyes.

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Tao in Color small


Tamra Travers

About the artist: 

Tamra Travers is a third year family medicine resident training in New York City. Her professional interests include narrative medicine, integrative medicine, and obstetrics. Originally from Florida, she enjoys the ocean, sunshine, playing outside, and cultivating creativity and curiosity about the world around her. You can find her narrative medicine work on her blog:  

About the artwork:

“I reached out to one of my mentors, Dr. Ken Brummel-Smith, for advice during my very first clinical rotation of medical school in my third year. I was feeling overwhelmed discussing complex, non-treatable problems and suffering from patients day after day on my psychiatry clerkship. His response strongly resonated with me, and years later it became the inspiration for this piece.

This is what he wrote: “You are being given an amazing gift, working with people who are suffering. The most important thing you can do for them is to recognize your feelings and not run from them. Your job is

Balance_Tao Read More »


I walked into the conference room to see an anxious classmate named James talking to Troy. That particular day he was worried about “The Match”: the process of applying to medical residency. The familiar feeling of tightness in my chest came back as I couldn’t help but overhear James ponder every permutation of what can go wrong in the process. After several minutes of this, I was frustrated. I sent a text to my friend sitting in another part of classroom to complain: James… I can’t right now.

My friend commiserated: No self awareness.

That night I had dinner with a friend who just started residency. I shared with her all of my fears: whether I’ll be a good doctor, whether I’ll be tired and unhappy, and whether I’ll get out of shape in residency. Later on I realized that I had done to my friend what James did to our class: unleashed the burden of my anxiety on a bystander. My friend probably left that conversation feeling as frustrated as I did earlier.

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