Johanna Shapiro, PhD
For medical students, mastering the art of the pelvic exam presents its own emotional and psychological challenges. In a situation of extreme physical intrusion, the medical student is encouraged to acknowledge only its normalcy. Standardized patients are now routinely used to guide students through the procedure, and to provide explicit feedback when students have been insensitive or rough. Nevertheless, adequately preparing young men and women to conduct such an intimate exam requires careful attention on multiple dimensions, psychosocial as well as mechanical.
In this context, even poetry can be a learning tool to help students apprehend aspects of the pelvic exam that standardized patients may have difficulty verbalizing. Recently, a group of first- and second-year medical students and I read two poems about the gynecologic exam as part of a module on the physical examination in an elective literature and medicine course. The poems offered moving insights into what that exam should and shouldn’t be.