This page describes our course, the
Veterinary Medicine and Literature Selective, offered initially at NCSU College of Veterinary
Medicine as a one-week selective, beginning in Spring 2002. Also see our Readings page for reading suggestions grouped by type and by theme.
An outgrowth of our class is the anthology, Animal Companions, Animal Doctors, Animal People: Poems, essays, and stories on our essential connections, collecting readings from well-known writers such as Molly Peacock, Lorna Crozier, and Mark Doty, along with pieces from veterinarians and animal lovers selected in an open competition. Selections are grouped into four sections with illuminating introductory essays (Work of the Animal, Hilde Weisert; Animal Doctors, Elizabeth Stone; Passages, Molly Peacock; Imagination Itself, Lorna Crozier). Available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and orderable through most local bookstores.
an educational tool, introducing literature into the
veterinary medicine curriculum offers a new means to
develop the communication, emotional acumen, and ethical
decision-making recognized as crucial to career satisfaction
and success. Reading and writing, reflecting and talking,
are natural ways to explore issues in working with clients,
the human-animal bond, and how to respond to the diverse
needs and values of different cultural and ethnic groups.
value of literature in fostering important clinical
skills has long been recognized in human medicine. In
1998, 74% of U.S. medical schools taught literature
and medicine, with it being part of a required course
in 39% of medical schools. Professors of medicine-literature
courses explain that literature may suggest "responses
without dictating them, urge behaviors without ordering,
illuminate values without oversimplifying them."
owe a significant debt to, and took much inspiration
from, these literature and medicine pioneers and contributors:
Robert Coles, the pioneer's pioneer. We recommend
Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination
mentor, the poet and doctor William Carlos Williams
Rita Charon and the Narrative
Medicine program at Columbia University School
Aull, Ph.D, founder of The
Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database (NYU Medical
Rafael Campo, poet and doctor, and author of The
Desire to Heal: A Doctor's Education in Empathy, Identity,
Atul Gawande, whose Complications:
A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
came out just in time for us to have our first group
of students read its "Education of a Knife"
John Stone, whose On
Doctoring: Stories, Poems, Essays (also now
available in digital
format) provided among other pieces Elspeth Cameron
Ritchie's funny, incisive essay, “Language Barriers",
and whose own poem, "Talking to the Family",
speaks to any doctor
Peacock, whose How
to Read a Poem shows a passionate, intelligent
reader-poet in the act of reading many wonderful poems,
including Jane Kenyon's indispensable "Let Evening
Come". For the course, Molly contributed a pair
of poems, "Fellini the Cat" and "Widow",
that were both moving and thought-provoking
Mark Doty, whose perfect sonnet, "Beau: Golden
Retrievals" (in Sweet
Machine) read aloud, begins and ends our
Different course models
daily seminar| Weekly evening seminars
course we developed at NC State College of Veterinary
Medicine was offered as a one-week selective, meeting
mornings from 9 to 1, with afternoons for reading and,
later in the week, writing. It is organized around themes
related to the various facets of a veterinarian's and
veterinary student's life. The thematic organization
allows for easy adaptability and expansion to different
selections. (Some days had multiple themes, but graceful
segues proved easy.) As we incorporate new selections,
and necessarily retire others to make room, we will
maintain a course archives available for further reading.
The Class schedule chart below
shows the plan for the week.
purpose of this course is to enable veterinary students
to experience literature as a means to:
understanding and empathy towards clients, other veterinarians,
Understand the personal connection between clients
and their animals and between the veterinarian and
Reflect on what it means to be a good veterinarian.
Renew their purpose (to remember why they wanted to
be a veterinarian).
personal connection is enhanced by including local writers.
Our faculty member, Dr. Greg Lewbart, is author of a
mystery series featuring a wildlife veterinarian as
hero. Greg's visit to read from his book, The
Pavilion Key, and talk about writing in the
life of a scientist and veterinarian, has been a big
hit, as well as an ideal kick-off for the class writing
also offers a different way for students to connect
with school administrators, who were invited to recommend
(and, if possible, discuss) a book that had influenced
them. The NCSU Chancellor, Mary Anne Fox, recommended
The Microbe Hunters, which turned out to have
two pieces every aspiring veterinarian should read ("Pasteur
and the Mad Dog,” and “Theobald Smith: Ticks
and Texas Fever”). More serendipity: finding a
poet had written a sonnet inspired by the book (Harold
Witt's "Microbe Hunters"), one writer's take
on science and poetry.
writing: Finding your story
definitely wanted to have our students write, but assuming
that some students would balk at "creative"
writing, we made this assignment as open as we could.
Finding Your Story. With our first group, students took
us up on this, some working in teams, some individually.
Our second group, however, could hardly wait for the
writing opportunity and each person wrote and read their
own essay or memoir with enthusiasm.
Questions and Finding Your Story (Writing Assignment)
Microsoft Word format:
Discussion Questions for each day's readings
Writing assignment, Finding Your Story
schedule (see the Readings
page for links)
a course in veterinary medicine and literature?
transformation: from past lives to veterinary students
communication; The human-animal bond; Why write?
and telling your stories:
Being a scientist:
do no harm; Dying, death, and grief
your story, part 2; Retaining purpose and joy
Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, “Language Barriers”,
from On Doctoring)
James Herriot, Chapter 2, All Creatures Great
Emily Dickinson, “Surgeons must be very careful”
Mark Doty, “Beau: Golden Retrievals”
Thomas Lux, “The Voice You Hear When You Read
Oliver Wendell Holmes, "The Stethoscope Song,
a Professional Ballad", from On Doctoring
Robert Coles, “Vocational Choices and Hazards”
from The Call of Stories
Atul Gawande, “Education of a Knife”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birthmark”
Introduced with Robert Frost "The Figure
a Poem Makes"
W.H. Auden,"Musée des Beaux Arts";
"Give Me a Doctor"
William Carlos Williams,"Pictures from Brueghel:
II. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"
John Stone, "Talking to the Family"
led by author:
Greg Lewbart, Chapters 1, 2, and 3 from The Pavilion
Key: Isle of Buried Treasure
William Carlos Williams, “The Practice”,
from On Doctoring
James Herriot, Chapter 14, Every Living Thing
Hugh Lofting, Chapter 2 and 3, Dr. Doolittle
Rudyard Kipling, “The Cat That Walked by Himself
Denise Levertov, "Come Into Animal Presence";
"Her Sadness"; "The Secret"
Maxine Kumin, "Amanda Dreams She Has Died and
Gone to the Elysian Fields", "Eyes"
Hilde Weisert, "Imagination Itself"
Richard Selzer, “Imelda”, from On
Lewis Thomas, “Lives of a Cell” and
“Germs” from Lives of a Cell
James Herriot, Chapter 1, Every Living Thing
Harold Witt, "Microbe Hunters"
Hilde Weisert, "Guess Work, Scientists, Poets,
Denise Levertov: "Talking to Grief"
Peacock, "Fellini the Cat" and "Widow"
Kenyon: "Let Evening Come"
Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle"
W.H. Auden, "Funeral Blues"
read their stories
James Herriot, Chapter 4 and Chapter 52, Every
Paul de Kruif, Chapter 5, “Pasteur and the
Mad Dog,” and Chapter 8, “Theobald
Smith: Ticks and Texas Fever,” in The
Billy Collins, "Another reason why I don't
keep a gun in the house"
Louise Gluck, "Horse"
Day 2 readings
Day 3 readings
Day 4 readings
Day 5 readings;
write a story or poem to be shared on day 5
Evaluating the results
used a pre- and post-questionnaire [link TBD] to assess
how well the course had accomplished its objectives
and (along with discussion and feedback throughout the
class) get student opinion and ideas on the course itself.