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N.J. medical professionals increasingly turn to poetry, literature to improve patient care

“We see literature as a way for health care workers to reconnect to the humanities of their patients, to see through someone else’s eyes and to understand their patient’s perspectives,” said Mary Rizzo, associate director of the council who runs “Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Healthcare” in six New Jersey hospitals.

“Through studying literature, we learn to be better diagnosticians, better observers, better interviewers, better clinicians,” said Nancy Gross, who moderates the program at Overlook.

In hospitals across New Jersey and around the country, medical professionals are increasingly turning to poetry, novels and other forms of literature to help improve patient care. From book clubs to writing seminars to today’s Poetry and Medicine Day in Newark, hospitals are encouraging their staff to seek out literature to help increase empathy, learn about new cultures and improve communication among their team.

“Art always enriches life,” said Julia DiGioia, a physician at Overlook who is a member of the book program. “These are human stories. They give us a deeper appreciation of life and a new appreciation of what our patients can endure and triumph over.”

Diane Kaufman, a psychiatrist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, sees poetry and writing as integral to her work. As founder of Creative Arts Healthcare, she works with colleagues across the hospital to celebrate the arts.

Today, they present the third-annual “Poetry in Medicine Day,” a program featuring a morning lecture by a nationally renowned poetry therapist, workshops with five authors who have written about medical issues and discussions about using stories and poetry in clinical practice.

“Medicine is a creative endeavor,” Kaufman said. “Sometimes we split ourselves apart. This is a way to bring ourselves together and to announce out loud that we have a creative community here.”

Kaufman says studies show the use of arts — music, photography, paintings, writing — can help patients in their recovery.


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