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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

The Thursday Blog: Re-Tooled

Doctors with patient, 1999 by Seattle Municipal Archives, under a Creative Commons licence

Tools of the Trade has been one of the SPL’s most successful ventures in recent years. If you are unaware of the project, Tools’ inception can be traced back to 2014 when Dr Lesley Morrison contacted the Library with a great idea. What did we think about putting together an anthology about doctors and patients that could be given to every newly graduated medical student in Scotland? The anthology would be more than simple gift. As the editors wrote in their introduction, Tools reminds junior medics that compassion is at the heart of being a doctor – compassion not only for patients, but for themselves too, if they hope to stay resilient in such a demanding profession.

When we announced the project, there was a groundswell of interest, extending beyond the medical community and their families. Thanks to extremely generous donations from the public, we were able to produce Tools’ first edition and distribute it to graduating students in 2014 and 2015. With an editorial team consisting of Dr Lesley Morrison, Dr John Gillies, Revd Ali Newell, Kate Hendry and Lilias Fraser, we put together a second, expanded version which we gave away in 2016 and 2017 (and, again, later this year) with support from the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland, and The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland.

From the start, there was great interest in the book; we were even interviewed on Radio 4’s Front Row about it. Poetry is often accused of inhabiting an ivory tower, yet when people see professionals using it where it has a real-world impact, people want to know more. Tools of the Trade appears to have hit on something that is increasingly of interest across healthcare professions.

A case in point is the Poems for Doctors project. A collaboration between the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews and the SPL, Poems for Doctors has been filming medical professionals - from the Dean and senior staff, to undergraduate students - reading poems that have a particular resonance for them, which they discuss. Each reading, as well as being available online for anybody to enjoy, also provides a basis for informal discussion by medics in a closed, moderated Facebook group.

We are also involved in a free event that takes place at Saint Cecilia’s Hall on Monday, 12 March, 6pm, as part of the Mad Hatter, Grey Matter festival. This week-long festival provides an opportunity to utilise collections, archives and current research across the themes of creativity, neuroscience and psychology as part of International Brain Awareness Week. Our event, Head Lines: Poetry and Medicine, sees John Gillies (Co-Director, University of Edinburgh Compassion Initiative) and poet Ken Cockburn discuss poetry’s place in the world of medicine and care. Free tickets can be booked online here.

On Monday, 26 April, the Wall Street Journal published an article about Tools of the Trade, which can be viewed via this link (it takes you to another link via Twitter; one more click and you have the article). It contains this quote from Lewis Hughes, who graduated from Dundee last year:

'Working in medicine lets you peek behind an odd veil into the reality of people’s lives and deaths, warts and all. I took heart having read the second stanza, that even in the midst of what can be a gloomy journey, we can be a source of comfort for people where there is very little light by making their goodbye a fulfilling one.'

The Scottish Medical Humanities website has been publishing regular blogs featuring poems with a medical angle, such as Nuala Watt’s ‘The Eye Test’ and ‘Embarrassed’ by Hollie McNish. With an aim of highlighting medical humanities research which specifically offers a message for medical practice, the website is an early result of a working group that is furthering medical humanities in training new doctors and other healthcare professionals.

The second edition of Tools of the Trade is available to buy in person or online from the SPL’s shop. The more copies we sell, the more likely we will be able to put together a third edition that we can give to graduating medical students in future years. If you would like to order a book, click here, and if you would like to make a donation, firstly, thank you, and secondly, click here to do so. We hope you agree with us that this is a highly worthwhile project deserving of support now and in the future.

Category: projects, Scottish Poetry Library