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What We’re Reading: Short Stories for Every Physician

Article · January 15, 2016

I’ve recently re-read some favorite short stories. If you read them, you won’t forget them. If I were again to direct a course for medical students, these would be required reading, though they are far from medical texts:

  • All of The Doctor Stories by the poet/pediatrician William Carlos Williams, especially “The Use of Force.” Have you ever been impatient with a patient? With a child?
  • Anton Chekhov’s short story “Ward 6” in the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky. How quickly and unexpectedly can things change, and what is it like to be on the other side of a door? Like Williams, Chekhov — who died young of tuberculosis in 1904 — was a physician.
  • Tillie Olsen’s “Hey Sailor, What Ship?” in her book of short stories, Tell Me A Riddle. How often have you seen alcoholics treated as if they were barely human, and certainly not interesting? The tale of this marinero might help some medical students, house staff, and attending physicians look twice. In the same volume, don’t miss “I Stand Here Ironing,” for the many people we see whose opportunities are not like ours.

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