Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 147-155

First online:

The doctor and the literary text — potentials and pitfalls

  • Rolf AhlzénAffiliated withDepartment of Humanistic Medicine, Karolinska InstituteDivision of Environmental Sciences, University of Karlstad

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Expectations are growing that literature may contribute to clinical skills. Narrative medicine is a quickly expanding area of research. However, many people remain sceptical to the idea of literature having a capacity to “save the life of medicine”. It is therefore urgent to scrutinize both the arguments in favour of and those against the potential of literature for increasing medical understanding. This article attempts to do this. It does in fact support the assertion that literature is important, but it stresses precisely its character of potential. There is no simple connection between acquaintance with literary texts and understanding of the different aspects of medical work. Much more need to be known about the conditions which allow the experiences residing in texts to be transformed into lived personal knowledge.

ambiguity clinical encounter experience literary text perception potential understanding