There are many ways to write about health, medicine, and health care. And there are many people – patients, caregivers, policymakers, pundits, thought leaders, and health professionals – in a position to do so.
Fortunately, the world also offers a similar and growing diversity of places in which to publish this sort of work.
My focus today is more, well, literary.
I know the word “literary” often puts people off, particularly those in medicine. To some it sounds pretentious. To others, it seems distant from real world problems and irrelevant to their lives and concerns. Some aren’t quite sure what it means.
Here are the first two official definitions according to Merriam-Webster:
- Of, relating to, or having the characteristics of humane learning
- Of or relating to authors or scholars
So when I say literary, I mean something related to both writing and humanity. Medicine too is focused on humanity, and often we write about that. So literary + medical is not an odd coupling but a perfect match. And writing about our experiences in medicine as patients, caregivers, or providers is a way of authoring our humanity.
Below is a partial list, in alphabetical order, of medical literary or medical humanities journals that publish essays, personal narratives, poetry, fiction, and art, and a link to a terrific resource of literary journals.
Some of the writing for these journals, whether print or online, overlaps with the sort of work published in narrative sections of medical journals discussed previously. But it’s also different. The essays in medical journals often require a more scholarly approach that includes data, insider language, and references. The writing for medical-literary journals can be equally rigorous, though it’s different in style. The emphasis here is more on story and language, metaphor and images, even for essays and certainly for stories and poems. What this means is that it’s often not enough to tell a good story well; in this sort of journal, you might also need to tell it with beautiful or interesting or original language.
But it varies a lot, so be sure to read the instructions for authors.
Abaton. Annual journal of poetry, essays, art and photography that explores aspects of health care that often elude academic disciplines. It is these often unspoken sentiments of the provider and patient that form a bridge to an evidence-based profession. By allowing these stories to be heard, we give voice to the most fundamental aspect of medicine – humanism.
Ars Medica. A biannual literary journal that explores the interface between the arts and healing, and examines what makes medicine an art. ARS MEDICA allows a place for dialogue, meaning-making, and the representation of experiences of the body, health, wellness, and encounters with the medical system. Content includes narratives from patients and health care workers, medical history, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art.
Atrium. A journal of scholarly work and art about the medical humanities published by the Northwestern University Medical Humanities and Bioethics program.
Bellevue Literary Review. A unique literary magazine that examines human existence through the prism of health and healing, illness and disease. Each issue is filled with high quality, easily accessible poetry, short stories, and essays that appeal to a wide audience of readers. This is the journal on this list with the highest literary stature – stories, essays, and poems in BLR win national prizes in literature.
Blood and Thunder. An arts journal published by the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. All interested authors and artists are invited to submit original, health care-related, unpublished literary or artistic works of no more than 3,500 words.
Daedalus. Draws on the enormous intellectual capacity of the American Academy, whose Fellows are among the nation’s most prominent thinkers in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Each issue addresses a theme with original, authoritative essays on a current topic like happiness, human nature, and imperialism.
Dermanities. Emphasis on patient care, physician experiences, and the interplay of medicine with the social & psychological sciences. Accepts stories, poetry, essays, and art.
The Examined Life. From the University of Iowa, which hosts an annual conference in April with the same name and focus. Accepts submissions of poetry, fiction and nonfiction.
The Healing Muse. The annual journal of literary and visual art published by SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics & Humanities. We welcome fiction, poetry, narratives, essays, memoirs and visual art, particularly but not exclusively focusing on themes of medicine, illness, disability and healing.
Hektoen International. Features articles on the medical humanities from a wide spectrum of global and cultural perspectives, essays, personal narratives, short fiction, poetry, and art. Looking for articles on medical history, medicine and literature, art history, anthropology, and ethics.
Hospital Drive. The on-line literary and humanities journal of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. The journal publishes original literature and art on themes of health, illness, and healing. Poems, short fiction, essays, visual arts, and audio and video art will be considered. Issues will be published 3 to 4 times a year and may include invited work.
The Intima. An electronic journal to stimulate thought, reflection, and conversation about the intersecting worlds of medicine, humanities and art. Accepts scholarly essays or articles geared towards educating a general audience about Narrative Medicine, non-fiction, personal narratives or perspective pieces, fiction, short fiction, field notes, reflections on working in the field, poetry, studio art, in any medium such as paintings, photographs, or prints, audio or visual multimedia. Submissions welcome from patients, family, and clinicians, about their experiences in health care.
The Pharos (the AOA journal). Alpha Omega Alpha’s quarterly journal publishes scholarly essays covering a wide array of nontechnical medical subjects, including medical history, ethics, and medical-related literature, art, ethics, economics, health policy, and profiles of prominent persons. It also publishes scholarly nonfiction on a medical subject, poetry and poetry/photography combinations, and personal essays.
Pulse. One narrative, essay, or poem telling the personal story of healthcare delivered to your inbox each Friday. Mission: publishing personal accounts of illness or healing; fostering the humanistic practice of medicine; encouraging health care advocacy.
The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine. The Yale Program for Humanities in Medicine at Yale sponsors this electronic journal in the hope to encourage dialogue among physicians, nurses, nurse-practitioners and physician-assistants, students, and all other health-care workers. We are eager for stories — narratives they now are called — from the patients we all become. In short, we foster humanism in medicine, however defined. We welcome poetry, essays, and book reviews with some flexibility in those categories.
By this I mean the journals where professional and ‘real’ writers publish their fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. These are not for beginners and often have more literary work, meaning the bar is higher. Because many of these journals are just published two, three, or four times a year, getting your story or essay or poem into one can make getting your scientific article into JAMA or NEJM look relatively easy.
Louise Aronson is a geriatrician and the author of A History of the Present Illness. She blogs at her self-titled site, Louse Aronson, and can be found on Twitter @LouiseAronson.
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