Three students from the Class of 2014 at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine were among the winners in the area’s first annual Poetry in Medicine competition.

First place went to Sara Bahraini for her poem, “Almost Sisters.” Yi Deng received second place for her poem, “The Mental Status Exam.” Third place went to Robert Brown for his poem, “To My First Patients.”

Physician and poet Jack Coulehan served as guest judge. Winning poems were selected on the basis of craftsmanship, originality, and content.

“The large volume of entries was surprising,” said Dr. Molly O’Dell, director of the New River Health District and a poet who conceived the program. “The high level of interest and participation affirms this poetry competition as a worthwhile forum for writers and medical students. Every winner was so appreciative of the opportunity and the experience.”

Supported by the Roanoke Times and World News, the Tuberculosis Foundation of Virginia, and Community High School for Arts and Academics, the competition was also open to master of fine arts students and undergraduates at Virginia Tech. Among the master of fine arts students, Brianna Stout took first place, followed by Laura Usselman, second, and Amy Marengo, third. Virginia Tech student Marcus McDonald took first in the undergraduate category, followed by Will Mackie-Jenkins, second, and Alaina Brown, third.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute joins the basic science, life science, bioinformatics, and engineering strengths of Virginia Tech with the medical practice and medical education experience of Carilion Clinic. Virginia Tech Carilion is located in a new biomedical health sciences campus in Roanoke at 2 Riverside Circle.

Written by Catherine Doss


Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine winning entries

Almost Sisters by Sara Bahraini

Before, you were a story:
a stack of pictures and letters that gathered,
growing up.
You were my father’s
smiles, his
early morning long-distance phone calls,
his late brother’s face
in a little girl.

Now we sit in this space; our grandmother’s
bed, together,
a bowl of tangerines
between us. You are real.
We smile at each other in silence,
each without a sister,
feeding one another.

The peels gather,
curled in piles, like your letters on my father’s desk.
The desert sun splashes
over the room through the scratched glass,
and the citrus vapors wade
in the warmth.

I watch as your scarf falls
onto your shoulders, reaching over
to deliver the next slice.
We have the same hair, you know.
We have the same hair, after all.


The Mental Status Exam by Yi Deng

My doctor wears the same outfit every day.
He wears the same expression every day.
He always tells me he is doing well
But I suspect some days he must be sad
Because I’m not getting better.
He can see things in me other people can’t see.
He can hear things in me other people can’t hear.
He talks in circles, he works like a robot,
He’s only harming his health
While he’s trying to help.
I feel reassured my doc belongs in the loony bin with me.
I think he agrees.
He keeps showing up every day!


To My First Patients by Robert Brown

When I met you
you were so thin and your voice was very small
but you smiled and you held my hand
with such warmth.
Your daughter explained how you held on
despite the pain
because you wanted to teach students about your cancer.
Your eyes were plangent when you told me to be, “the best doctor.”
I remember what you taught me and I am grateful.

When I met you
you were tall, muscular, and angry
you wanted people to think you were mean, violent
but you never meant to cut your arm so deeply
and you didn’t want to die
you were fighting your addiction

When I met you
your wife was by your side but I could not tell if you knew it
your eyes showed “one and a half” syndrome
and you could not speak.
I watched the operation, watched the map of your arteries on the screen
and the next day, I met you again
smiling, chatting, moving, sensing
and surrounded by happy family
I had no part in it, but it mattered to no one,
I got hugged like a hero

When I met you
you were feverish, bright red, with cracked lips and a “strawberry” tongue
you were a textbook case
except I was wrong.
If it weren’t for your mom
who knows you best
who knew your right hip was tender when I missed it
who knew when you were pretending to sleep and when you badly needed rest
who was by your side for so many days
I am afraid to think of how long it would have taken me to realize
something was wrong

When I met you
you had a fever and your baby was on the way
you labored all through the night and into the next day
then you delivered
a beautiful baby girl into my hands
and shared a moment of your life with me
which will always make me smile.
So much happened so quickly
when I looked up
you had fallen asleep, exhausted
You must have known when you met me
I would receive much more from you than I could give in return
and you allowed me into your lives
for which I am grateful and will always be grateful