Poetry for Veterans: Using Poetry to Help Care for Patients in Palliative Care - A Case Series

Nora Segar*, Jessica Sullivan, Katherine Litwin, Joshua Hauser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Although there is growing evidence that close reading of literature and reflective writing can improve providers' appreciation of the patient experience, foster physician development, and combat burnout, there has been less work on the experience of reading literature with patients, and even less literature about its effect on those facing serious or life-threatening illness. In addition, longer form reading may be unsuitable for some patient populations, given high burden of fatigue and possible contribution of delirium. Time pressure may also preclude discussion by a practitioner working in a busy clinical context. Hypothesis: We feel the condensed medium of poetry presents a natural opportunity to engage patients with the medical humanities, helping them to articulate difficult or joyful experiences, and/or serving as necessary diversion when facing serious illness. Project Description: Poetry for patients - a project developed through collaboration between Northwestern Memorial Hospital, The Jesse Brown VA, and the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture - has developed three short collections of poems, and an accompanying discussion guides for use specifically with patients and families. Hereunder, we present three case examples of a short (10-30 minutes) reading session with patients demonstrating that it is feasible to incorporate reading poetry with patients facing serious illness. Potential therapeutic value includes helping patients to articulate pain and joy, giving patients a vehicle to recapture their creative voice, and altering the power dynamics inherit to the provider-patient relationship. We have also noted enhanced life review, often on themes otherwise difficult to access. In turn, these readings have deepened our ability to see out patients as creative, intellectual, and larger than their medical illness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-467
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of palliative medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • medical humanities
  • poetry
  • veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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