Medicine and Literature: Two Treatments of the Human Condition | Aeon Essays
Doctor and writer Gavin Francis examines the synergy between literature, with its capacity to develop empathy, and a clinician’s provision of medical treatment or psychotherapy — and vice versa. That is, medical practice may also expand an author’s rendering of the human condition in his or her writing…
“It’s said that literature helps us to explore ways of being human, grants glimpses of lives beyond our own, aids empathy with others, alleviates distress, and widens our circle of awareness. The same could be said of clinical practice in all of its manifestations: nursing to surgery, psychotherapy to physiotherapy. An awareness of literature can aid the practice of medicine, just as clinical experience certainly helps me in the writing of my books. I’ve come to see the two disciplines as having more parallels than differences, and I’d like to argue they share a kind of synergy…” ~ Gavin Francis
How has your profession or previous work experience impacted your own writing? Has a particular piece of literature especially contributed to your present understanding of humanity or how the world works?
Having read most of John Steinbeck’s work in high school, it was eye-opening to me when I re-read Grapes of Wrath a few years ago. It was clear to me how the book had broadened my field of empathy and greatly influenced my sense of democracy. I don’t know if I should thank Steinbeck or complain. If I had not read his books, I might have chosen a career in the corporate world — and made more money! Then again, I could have missed the deep satisfaction of doing work I felt was meaningful.