Doctors with patient, 1999 by Seattle Municipal Archives, under a Creative Commons licence
I have a cousin in Colombia who is about to embark on years and years of medical studies. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, he has been told that he ‘can practise medicine anywhere in the world’. Medicine is often hailed as a universal trade. Illness doesn’t respect borders; it is a true lingua franca all of us will ‘speak’ at some point in our lives. Regardless of local practices, resources, and politics, the need for people who are trained to treat us when we are ill exists everywhere, as does the fascination with the patient-doctor relationship, and with the difficulties of a life dedicated to the health of others.
At the end of May, all the graduating medical students in Scotland – just over 900 of them – were offered a free copy of the anthology Tools of the trade: poems for new doctors. As regular readers of the blog might know, the SPL along with Dr Lesley Morrison took a lead in bringing this book into existence. A pocket-sized anthology of around 50 poems, Tools of the Trade includes poems by doctor-poets, and has been made possible by private donations, many from GPs or their families. From the first search for ideas to the sifting of possible poems for inclusion; from the design to the administrative work of permissions; and especially when it came to raising money to produce the book, Tools of the Trade has had input from GPs and their families. Although meant for new doctors, it turns out existing medical practitioners were just as interested.
Very soon after the boxes of books came in to the library, orders began to pour in through our online shop: we have a small proportion of the print run available for sale, although most of the books are destined for graduating students. Over the past few weeks I have packed up copies of the anthology to destinations across the UK, but also to addresses in Canada, the US and Japan. There have been orders from Sweden, Switzerland and several other European countries, especially after a lovely blog by Richard Smith at the British Medical Journal.
It is almost becoming a delightful guessing-game, to figure out where the next order will be coming from, and it’s just as satisfying to know that connections are being made between readers far away and a wee library in Scotland. It is also fascinating to see the diversity of readers ordering Tools of the Trade. They range from individuals who want to give the book to a doctor or medical student in their family or circle of friends, to specialised medical practices and research centres. In that sense, these poems about those who care and those who are cared for are truly universal. They address the core issues of trust, power and grief which every doctor is bound to face. An order from Colombia has yet to arrive. I might just take care of that one myself.
It is always pleasant to daydream about where a book will end up, and what the reaction to it will be once it arrives there. With Tools of the Trade, we have a better idea of where it might go, and a hope for how it will be received.
Read more about the anthology and order a copy here.