Posted March 23, 2009
Susan Bell has been working as a scholar with the Literature and Medicine Program of the Maine Humanities Council since 2000. The Literature and Medicine program is part of an effort to join literature and medicine, or more broadly, health care and the humanities. Maine’s program has been adopted by humanities councils in nineteen other states and more than one hundred hospitals.
Once a month multidisciplinary groups of workers at a hospital—medical and nursing staff and residents, chaplains, ethicists, social workers and counselors, librarians and board members—have dinner together and talk about books, poems, plays, memoirs, and social science texts. Susan chooses the discussion topics, assigns the texts, and leads the group.
The sustained, interdisciplinary conversation that develops encourages mutual reflection about the experiences of health and disease, the meanings of scientific and experiential knowledge, and the multiple and complicated challenges associated with illness and health in contemporary U.S. society. In the best of possible worlds, these seminars can transform how participants understand their work, understand their working relationships with each other, and encourage respectful, compassionate relationships with patients.
“Discussing literature with health professionals at all stages of their careers gives me a unique opportunity to bring a sociological imagination to bear on urgent social problems with people who live with and try to address them on a daily basis.”