Ingraham's 'Frightening Death', Matthews' 'A Ballade for Busy Doctors' and Free's 'The Old-time Family Doctor', are poems that look back to a time when doctoring did not necessarily aim to cure (because treatments were ineffectual or unavailable), but yet medicine provided care and comfort.14,15,16 These poems serve as a reminder that technological advances can and often do undermine the caring aspect of clinical care. Dannie Abse's poem 'In the Theatre' describes neurosurgery in the early part of the twentieth century and reveals the arcane art of medicine that both sets doctors apart and privileges their knowledge of the human body.17

Compassion fatigue

Glenn Colquhoun's poem 'Today I Do Not Want to be a Doctor', is an example of how a clinician might respond to the apparently unending burden of caring for others.18 The poems by Hanlon ('A Lover's Quarrel'), Emmott ('Junkie on the Phone' and 'A Memorable Story') hint at the cynicism that can undermine compassion within the clinical context.19,20 These poems exemplify the difficulty in retaining empathy and compassion and provide the basis for discussion about the risk of detachment and callousness on the one hand and of undue emotional enmeshment and compassion fatigue on the other.

Life and death

Abear's poem 'House Call' and Charach's 'A Poem About the Pancreas', are poetic responses to clinical situations, namely of forlorn old age and of the lethality of carcinoma of the pancreas, respectively.21,22 Peters' 'Watching Someone Die' and Williams' 'Complaint' deal with the polar opposites of death and birth.23,24 These poems exemplify what Ulla-Carin Lindquist meant when she wrote 'To work as a doctor is a privilege, with all the contact it gives, all the insights into life, dying and death'.25

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