At first glance, poetry and medicine might not appear to have much in common. If T.S. Eliot and Jonas Salk were in the same room, would they have anything to discuss? Would they even speak the same language? The answer to both of these questions is yes. According to Dr. J. Hayden Hollingsworth, a retired Roanoke physician, poetry and an appreciation for the fine arts can improve the practice of medicine by bridging the communication gap between physicians and patients in the modern world.

Dr. Hollingsworth served as the guest judge for the second annual Poetry in Medicine competition and reading at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center on April 25. The contest was open to Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine students as well as master of fine art students and undergraduates at Virginia Tech.

In the medical student category, Ehsan Dowlati, a member of the Class of 2016, placed first with his poem, “Ode to the Neuron.” Beth Calloway, a member of the Class of 2017, came in second with her poem, “Emergency Department,” and Sanghee Suh, a member of the Class of 2015, received third place for her poem, “Half Marathon.”

Among the MFA students, Amy Marengo came in first with her poem, “On Impact.” Nathan Black received second place for his poem, “The Ontological Argument as Demonstrated by the Material World or Lack Thereof.” Jeff Haynes received third place for his poem, “Notes For the Actor Playing Me in the Movie About Me but Not Starring Me Because I’ll be Dead.”

In the undergraduate category, Makaravine Duong received first place for her poem, “Four Daughters Mitosis.” Susan Nguyen received second place for her poem, “Of Complex Design,” and Cassidy Grubbs received third place for her poem, “Jefferson Landing.”

After the readings, Dr. Hollingsworth discussed the importance of art in medicine and how technology has changed the practice of medicine over the last few decades. In the mid-twentieth century, physicians were often single practitioners, but in today’s world, a medical practice can consist of many different specialists in the same building.

Dr. Hollingsworth mentioned how quickly a diagnosis can be made now, but he argued that a sense of personal care gets lost within the technology.

“Patients don’t know their doctors’ names in the hospital anymore,” he said. The patient experience in the hospital has become an army of doctors on rounds with their computers, he argued.

Dr. Hollingsworth also reminded physicians of the importance of a personal experience for patients. He discussed the power of communication and how crucial it is for physicians to talk with their patients and provide a support system. He concluded his talk with, “Don’t lose that humanity.”

The competition was sponsored by the Tuberculosis Foundation of Virginia and the Community High School for Arts and Academics. The program was created by Dr. Molly O’Dell, a poet and director of the New River Health District.

Written by Susannah Netherland


The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine winning entries include:

Emergency Department by Beth Calloway

“She lived alone,” they said. “She’s eighty-nine.”
Your independence must have been so dear.
That makes it worse, the stroke that brought you here,
And ravaged your healthy body and mind.
You’d painted your nails yourself, I could tell,
Yesterday your hands were fast and steady.
I know that you cannot have been ready.
Time had been your friend. You wore your years well.
Now my best isn’t enough; forgive me.
I’ll keep you from slipping gently towards death
And restore your pressure, heart rate, and breath,
But not your treasured self-sufficiency.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t help in time.
When I think about what you lost tonight
I’ll strengthen my resolve. And I will fight
More fiercely for the next patient of mine.

Half-Marathon by Sanghee Suh

Mile 1.
Is a honeymoon period.
The rush of getting your white coat.
Learning the linguistics of medicine
While marveling at the complexities of its culture
Enjoy the scenery

Mile 3.
Is when the adrenaline dampens
The fire hydrant emerges in the distance
The one you are required to drink out of it
Falling asleep on textbooks, late nights in the library
Keep going uphill

Mile 6.
Is your very first patient in the wards
Learning the art of communicating
Good news and the bad news
Early mornings, rounding, and black coffee
Change your pace

Mile 10.
Is finding your strengths and weaknesses
Knowing certain specialties are better suited than others
This is when your vision starts forming
Which allow long hours in the hospital and sleepless nights
Picture that finish line

Mile 13
Is when people start calling you doctor
And you don’t find the need to correct them
You work a little harder, a little smarter
Because there is no turning back
Sprint towards the end

Mile 13.1
Enjoy the endorphins.