Why doctors should write poems

9th March 2011 by Judith Harvey

Why doctors should write poems

Hilton Koppe is a genial Australian GP whose talent for engaging an audience can be judged by the fact that he can cajole Aussie orthopods to write poetry. His thesis is that we spend our lives writing down patients’ stories, but are not encouraged to reflect on them or allowed to admit our emotional involvement. He argues that we need a way of making sense of the dramas which we witness, and creative writing offers us that opportunity.

At this year’s WONCA conference in Basel Dr Koppe persuaded a multinational audience of GPs to choose their most memorable heartsink patient and to write down adjectives beginning with B to describe them. Aussies apparently are good at this: ‘b****y crazy’, ‘b****y maddening’, ‘b****y pain in the a**e’. We were then given a simple verse structure – no rhymes required – and ten minutes to write about our chosen patient. Several participants responded to the invitation to read out their work. Most wrote in English, for many their second or third language. One participant explained that he thought that AU against Dr Koppe’s name in the WONCA timetable meant ‘Austrian’ and had he realised that the workshop was being run by an Australian he, a Kiwi, would have joined the session on teenage health in Slovenia. Still, he read out his poem. A GP from Basel explained that she had written in her mother tongue, but was confident we would understand. We did. Few languages can express frustration as satisfyingly as Schweitzer Deutsch.

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