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Literature & Medicine Program May Be Just What the Doctor Ordered

Literature & Medicine Program May Be Just What the Doctor Ordered

For physician Thomas Tonniges it was a return of sorts to his days as a liberal arts major. Except, this time around, his classmates were 19 nurses, physicians, audiologists, researchers, administrators and others at Boys Town National Research Hospital.

Tonniges, director of the Boys Town Institute for Child Health Improvement, and the others began meeting in January as part of Nebraska’s first Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Healthcare™ program. The hospital is offering the six-month series in partnership with the Center for Health Policy and Ethics (CHPE) at Creighton University Medical Center.

Literature & Medicine was developed by the Maine Humanities Council. The Nebraska Humanities Council is funding the Boys Town/Creighton collaboration.

“Literature has been used as a means to help health professionals reconnect to the human side of their practices for many years as well as better understand the predicaments faced by their patients,” said Amy Haddad, Ph.D., CHPE director and Literature and Medicine group facilitator.

Because Boys Town focuses on the care, treatment and research of childhood deafness, visual impairment and other communication disorders, participant readings have been slanted toward vulnerable children with chronic health conditions.

Since January, the group has delved into novels, short stories, essays, plays and poetry that deal with children and families, obligations within family structures, the welfare of children in general, and caring for children under difficult circumstances. Readings have ranged from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt,” by John Patrick Shanley, to K.L. Goings’ novel, “Fat Kid Rules the World.”

Participants then meet to discuss the readings and offer their interpretations of them.

“The readings are very challenging in terms of issues,” said participant Laurel Prestridge, a pediatric gastroenterologist. “But they are about realistic problems, and it brings out (group) conversation quickly. …We leave with a better understanding of where patients are coming from and how parents process information.”

Tonniges and Pat Allgeier, Boys Town chief nurse executive, agree the program helps bring together health professionals, who might otherwise not interact, and causes them to share valuable, differing points of view about the readings. For professionals who deal with complex issues of illness and injury, literature offers a chance to step back and consider situations from new perspectives.

“One doctor in the group gave an explanation that was very different from my interpretation,” Allgeier said. “The more I thought about it, it caused me to take a different point of view about a family interaction.”

Haddad said the ultimate goal is to keep participants talking, sharing ideas, and applying what they learn to their daily interactions with patients and their families – long after they attend the last session of this Literature and Medicine group on June 12.

posted 05/25/07