“There is something about literature that gives people permission to have conversations they wouldn’t normally have.”

Suzanne Koven, MD, a primary care physician at the MGH since 1990 – and now the hospital’s Writer in Residence – has led colleagues through many such conversations about race, religion, gender, substance use, mental illness and more. “People are eager to talk, and they don’t have time to talk,” she says. “This is providing a safe space.”

Since 2009, Koven has facilitated discussions with clinical and nonclinical teams using novels, stories, essays and poems to explore various themes relevant to health care – themes that can be useful in helping teams find common causes in a variety of issues. The small workshops began in the Division of General Internal Medicine and now are one of many services offered by the newly-established Writer in Residence program, led by Koven.

“There were many years when I thought I wanted to bring my love of literature and writing into medicine, but life happened, and it got away from me,” she says. “Then my division had the foresight and imagination to feel the goodness and importance of this program, and it has grown immensely. I am thrilled to share it with the entire MGH community.”

The program, established hospitalwide this year, offers members of the MGH community assistance with writing at all levels, reading and writing workshops, and events such as poetry readings, symposia, a visiting author series and town readings.

All MGH staff are invited to “Poetry at Work: Healing Words at the MGH” April 29. The National Poetry Month event will feature hospital staff reciting and discussing their favorite poems. For those unable to leave their workspace, the program also will be livestreamed via Facebook Live.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, when you start talking about the really elemental things, it gets everyone to open up,” says Koven. “That’s been the revelation of all this. People are hungry to talk, and literature gives people the freedom to.”

Learn more about the Writer in Residence program on Apollo, the MGH intranet: apollo.massgeneral.org/writer-in-residence. 

Read more articles from the 04/19/19 Hotline issue.