Idea for Studying Medical Humanities Journals

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

Literary journals are becoming more commonplace at medical universities. Often they begin life as an in-house production intended to encourage medical students to write creatively about their experiences. Over time, the journal may evolve into a more expansive production, seeking writers and artists from outside the university to send their work as well. Both kinds of journals, however, do seem to share in common the idea that important stories are not being heard. They come into being in order to give voice to those who have not been heard. This panel will hear from four editors at four different kinds of literary medical journals who will then engage the audience to answer some of the following questions.

Why do we need these journals both within the medical community and within our academic centers? How do we appeal to all participants in the medical encounter—patients, physicians, caregivers, families, and health care professionals? How do we maintain high standards while still encouraging new voices with publication? How do we raise funds for these journals? How do we increase audience? If there has been resistance to creative medical writing as a legitimate form of narrative competence, who is behind it? Do these literary journals clearly present their agendas to their readers and to their institutions? Do journals evolve because of unexpected responses to them? Do fictional representations of medical encounters escape the problems of confidentiality when the same story is told by the physician as poet or fiction writer? Should journals have a confidentiality clause for all poems, stories, and creative essays that stem from a medical encounter? How do editors of these journals protect against plagiarism?

The editors represent an in-house journal, two journals that began as in-house but have moved now to national distribution and one theory-oriented journal. They will be presenting their journals’ philosophies, triumphs, and dilemmas in creating space for alternative voices in the ongoing dialogue about health, wellness, healing, disease. Each editor is committed to having the journal “be heard” by mainstream medical culture, because each of us believes the culture needs to listen to those who are often marginalized, oppressed, and invisible within the medical community that is supposedly charged with healing them.