Narrative and Medicine

Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, 1978


Atul Gawande, surgeon and public health specialist, has written extensively on ethics in healthcare. Check out his many essays here!

Blending personal narrative, literary criticism, and journalism, Leslie Jamison’s collection The Empathy Exams will kick open the doors of interdisciplinarity in the medical humanities (and don’t miss her other book, The Recovering, for a literature-driven look at women and substance abuse disorders).

Writing about her own disabilities and her son’s journey with Tay-Sachs disease, Emily Rapp Black’s archived essays at Role Reboot and The Rumpus will knock you out. Don’t miss her two extraordinary memoirs on these subjects, as well: Poster Child and The Still Point of the Turning World.

The LitMed forum–an extension of the New York University School of Medicine–has a comprehensive database of articles and essays on medical ethics, patient experiences, and related subjects.

Intermedia artist Karrie Higgins combines texts and forms into interactive essays on illness, disability, abuse, and neurodiversity.


Access the JAMA Network’s database of poetry “written by artists and physicians to address the experience and meanings of healing and illness.”

Rafael Campo, a physician and poet who teaches at Harvard University’s Medical School, has been writing at the intersection between art and medicine for many years. You can check out his books here.

Jillian Weise’s poetry collection The Amputee’s Guide to Sex was written with “the intention of changing the conversation around disability; essentially, she was tired of seeing “cripples” portrayed as asexual characters.”

Planet of the Blind author Stephen Kuusisto is also an extraordinary poet and disability activist.

For a parent’s perspective at the doctor’s office, read Heather Kirn Lanier’s poem “Psalm for Doctor Normal.”

Don’t forget that William Carlos Williams was a physician as well as a poet!


Alice Munro’s New Yorker short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” takes the reader through a man’s loss of his wife to Alzheimer’s.

Mark Haddon’s blockbuster novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time features an autistic boy who solves mysteries.

For an extended look at post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans of the second Iraq War, check out Jon Chopan’s award-winning story collection Veterans Crisis Hotline.

Podcasts, Blogs, and Visual Art

Charged, the podcast produced by the Massachusetts General Hospital, “is devoted to uncovering the stories of the relentless daily pursuit at Mass General to break boundaries and provide exceptional care.”

Want really cool stories about human behavior? Listen to NPR’s Invisibilia, a podcast about the “unseeable forces” that control our lives.

Though no longer producing new episodes, New Zealand writer Tessa Prebble’s The One in a Million Baby has an archive of moving interviews with parents and families raising children with disabilities.

Also exploring the experience of loving and parenting a child with disabilities, Heather Kirn Lanier’s blog Star in Her Eye chronicles Lanier’s life with her daughter.

Korean-American artist and writer Johanna Hedva works in many mediums with themes of illness and disability.

Angelo Merendino used black-and-white photography to document his wife Jennifer’s experience with breast cancer.


Bellevue Literary Review: “The Bellevue Literary Review, founded in 2000, was created as a forum for creatively exploring a broad array of issues in medicine and society, using fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to better understand the nuanced tensions that define our lives both in illness and in health. We are devoted to publishing writing that brings together the perspectives of patients, caregivers, family members, students, healthcare professionals, and the general public, allowing for deeper understanding of others’ experiences.”

The Medical Humanities Journal of Boston College
: “The Medical Humanities Journal of Boston College will seek to initiate and to engage in conversation in the Boston College community and beyond about the emergent field of Medical Humanities, Health and Culture. The journal will provide students at Boston College with the opportunity to publish original research, academic papers, editorials, and original creative work.”