This one time, Betty did a master’s degree. In her thesis, she wrote about three Australasian physician-writers, and interviewed some of them to talk about the ways their literary writing affected their medical practice, and, of course, vice-versa. It was lovely fun, and during the two years that she spent writing it, Betty gave a couple of guest lectures on related topics as part of her supervisor’s medical humanities course.
Last year, her supervisor asked Betty to consider coming to the big city and co-teaching the course, as well as giving it a bit of a reboot and adding a creative writing component. Betty considered this for about a quarter of a second before quitting her job and looking for an apartment. (In the interests of full disclosure, Betty must also reference the opportunity to train with the world-class Pilates master teacher, the wonderful studio to train in, and the boy person friend.)
Betty and her supervisor (who is awesome; he was at Oxford) split the teaching 50/50, and the course was a roaring success. That is to say, the students (all third-year medical students, with backgrounds in literature ranging from BA to “haven’t read a book since primary school”) read Chekhov, Kafka, Carlos Williams and Verghese until narrative and metaphor started coming out of their ears, and then they wrote a collection of poetry that made Betty blush with pride, and hope that if she ever drops almost-dead she finds a physician as empathetic, ethically sound, and articulate as they are.
This year Betty and her supervisor arranged to split the teaching 80/20. Betty is very excited. Though she has no desire to become a full-time professor, being a Lecturer: Medical Humanities is just what the doctor ordered. It’s a tantalising and chewy reminder of how much Betty loves academia.
All this, of course, means that Betty has a bunch of work to do redesigning the course. She plans to improve the section on mental illness by adding some more literature (the current readings are “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a semi-autobiographical story about undifferentiated schizophrenia, and some Plath poems; keen students can also read Alice W Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease), and create a specific section on grief (using CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed, Plutarch’s letter to his wife on the death of their child, and scenes from Truly, Madly, Deeply). Other sections cover topics like traditional medicine, ethics, metaphors of warfare and information systems, and the doctor-patient relationship.
Gentle readers with favourite literary texts that relate even remotely to practising medicine, giving birth, dying, being well, or being sick, should let rip in the comments section — no Lecturer: Medical Humanities is an island. Medium-sized stories or excerpts, or poems, are best, but I can show a few movie clips as well.