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Playing God: poems about medicine

Poetry and medicine collide in this unusual little book by a practising GP.

Poetry and medicine collide in this unusual little book by a practising GP.

This is a collection of poems written by a New Zealander who divides his time between general practice and caring for his young daughter.

His route to medicine was not a standard one. He studied to be a minister and for an English degree, worked as a builder and a cook and spent a year in a Maori community before completing his medical studies.

I really enjoyed taking the time out to read this book. In a world of general practice hounded by QOF targets and Government initiatives it is refreshing to reflect on the human face of our jobs.

The poet uses imagery both in his choice of words and the layout of the poems.

He uses the shape of the poems to illustrate Parkinsonian tremor, slow stream in prostatism and a poignant one-letter-at-a-time poem dictated by an intubated patient.

Although he pulls no punches and deals with the fears and worries of medicine and illness, he uses humour to give an underlying message of hope.

As a trainer I may use his poem ‘A brief format to be used when consulting with patients' to start a discussion about the consultation.

It is both amusing and thought provoking.

My favourite poem was ‘Increasingly sophisticated methods of divination used in the practice of medicine' which gently mocks the series of fixed beliefs in the sanctity of current methods that has existed since medicine began.

No one needs to read this book; it is not on any syllabus. However, if medicine has become a treadmill, reading this may be one way of remembering why we become doctors in the first place.

Rating: 5/5

Dr Clare Etherington


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