Commentary on Wit

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

A reading of Margaret Edson’s iconic play Wit with a group of third-year medical students recently led to an intriguing discussion of medical professionalism.

Wit is about a fiercely intellectual John Donne scholar named Vivian Bearing, who, dying of ovarian cancer, endures mistreatment at the hands of an equally intellectual and research-oriented medical establishment. The play is frequently used with health professional audiences to provoke reflection about ways of cultivating empathic responses toward patients. I Medical students, including some in my group, are sometimes moved to tears by a scene toward the end of the play in which Bearing’s mentor, Professor Evelyn Ashford, climbs into Vivian’s hospital bed and reads her a children’s story, The Runaway Bunny.

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Read the Role of Emotional Connection and Empathy in “Wit”