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The Society for Veterinary Medicine and Literature was founded by a veterinarian / veterinary educator and a poet to support and advance the discussion of literature and other arts in veterinary medicine education and practice.

From Dr. Elizabeth Stone, veterinarian and veterinary educator

This endeavor grows out of an elective course offered at NC State University's College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) beginning in 2001. Through poems, plays, short stories, memoirs, and excerpts from novels, veterinary students explored ways that conscientious reading and reflective writing could help engender empathy for clients, encourage moral reflection, and sustain the joy of being a veterinarian.

The response of our students was inspiring. The course accomplished its objectives, and more—it engaged a dimension that students (and teachers) rarely have time for in the press of traditional coursework.

The value of literature in fostering important clinical skills has long been recognized in human medicine. Professors of medicine-literature courses explain that literature may suggest "responses without dictating them, urge behaviors without ordering, illuminate values without oversimplifying them."*

This illumination, and the chance to reflect together on stories and ideas, can also be meaningful to the wider veterinary community. In 2004, we began a readers group at CVM, drawing participants from faculty, hospital technicians, and administration, as well as students.

At a time when veterinary medicine faces an array of highly-charged issues, and increasingly serves diverse and, it sometimes seems, competing constituencies and needs, this engagement of the imagination and spirit around literature can offer a way past conventional either-or choices and polarizing debates.

Elizabeth Arnold Stone, DVM, MS, DACVS
Society Co-Founder
Dean, Ontario Veterinary College
University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Elizabeth was formerly Department Head, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, where she instituted the selective in Veterinary Medicine and Literature.

From Hilde Weisert, poet

When Elizabeth asked me to help her create and teach a course in veterinary medicine and literature, I realized that I had been collecting readings for it for years, because "veterinary medicine and literature" encompassed so many themes that mattered to me—

  • The literature of illness, medicine and healing, and the relationship between doctor and patient
  • The human response to the finitude of life, a finitude which is much more a part of veterinarians' daily lives (as Frost's "The Span of Life" understands) than it is for most doctors of human medicine
  • The relationship of science, and scientific discovery, to poetry and the arts...

...And of course the deeply mysterious relationship between humans and animals (more intriguing, if humbling, when we remember that humans are animals too).
I'd memorized Mark Doty's "Beau: Golden Retrievals" when I first saw it in Unleashed: Poems by Writers' Dogs, and have passed it on to anyone who needs to hear its shining bark; dwelled on Maxine Kumin's Amanda (the horse) poems; smiled and sighed at Denise Levertov's wonderful animal poems. In my work teaching poetry in schools, I'd long, and gratefully, used James Wright's "A Blessing".

I am an animal lover and owner myself, and therefore a longtime veterinary client (not only of dogs, but once, of a chicken who fell victim to the literal pecking order). As custodian of Archie, a Jack Russell terrier, I'd hung on the words of my veterinarian when Archie's legs were mysteriously paralyzed, wondering if a stroke would end his ball-playing days forever. I would never forget her kindness, nor the kindness of the veterinarian who took my friend's dying Old English sheepdog out of my arms. I also wouldn't forget the patently false cameraderie of the vet who tried to pal around with Archie when he barely knew him.

These are some of the reasons why I believe veterinary medicine and literature is such a rich field for exploration, not only by veterinarians and veterinarians-in-training, but by anyone who cares about the connection between us and "the animals".

Finally, "using" literature has proved much more than utilitarian, more than a new tool for studying ethics, the human-animal bond, the doctor-patient relationship. The "veterinary medicine" dimension provides a new context for serious literary engagement. Thanks to our students, we have come to closer readings of poems, fresh insights into familiar stories, discoveries of unexpected conjunctions—the pleasures of literature, entered through a new door.

Hilde Weisert, Poet
Society Co-Founder

*Wear D. and Nixon LL. Literary inquiry and professional development in medicine. Perspec Biol Med 2002;45:104-124


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