Literature and Medicine Addresses Cultural Competency at Nisonger Center

March 7, 2011

For a second year the LEND program at The Ohio State University's Nisonger Center incorporated a series of seminars entitled "Literature and Medicine" facilitated by Georgina Dodge, Ph.D., the Assistant Vice Provost in the Office of Minority Affairs.  Dr. Dodge's responsibilities at Ohio State consist of promoting and coordinating collaboration among OSU departments focusing on issues of diversity.

Literature and Medicine is a national award-winning reading and discussion program for health care professionals offered by Ohio Humanities Council.  The Ohio Program follows the model developed in 1997 by the Maine Humanities Council.  The program "encourages participants to connect the worlds of science and lived experience, giving them the opportunity to reflect on their professional roles and relationships through plays, short stories, poetry, fiction an personal narratives in a setting where they can share their reflections with colleagues."(Maine Humanities Council)

Dr. Dodge has been instrumental in assisting with the development of the Literature and Medicine series at Cleveland's Rainbow Babies Hospital and at the Nisonger Center.  According to Jack Shortlidge, from the Ohio Humanities Council the goals of the programs are to "give participants a chance to reflect on their own experience as health care providers, through the lens of the readings."

The series consists of a collection of assigned readings such as "The Broken Cord" by Michael Dorris, winner of the 1989 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.  The book describes the life of an adopted Lakota boy (Adam) who is eventually diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and his father's struggle in his search for understanding and help.  The book exposes LEND trainees to the complicated interactions of Native culture, alcoholism and healthcare systems.

A core feature of the Literature and Medicine series is facilitated discussion which evolves from the readings.  For example while discussing "The Broken Cord" trainees were asked to reflect on questions such as: Would the knowledge that the mother knowingly consumed alcohol during her pregnancy affect how you would provide service? Do you blame her?

Trainees engaged in active exchanges ranging from "Yes, I would blame her" to "my child has a disability and I did everything right during my pregnancy and this mother took advantage of hers" to "how can you blame someone who has an addiction; it is a disease."  The discussion analyzed the impact of funding, education and services for minority populations with little resources.

The Literature and Medicine program directly addresses the development of cultural competencies among trainees by encouraging self reflection, critical thinking, and communication.  According to Dr. Dodge "the characters and settings in the literature provide us with the full range of human existence and with a variety of human relationships that we can situate our own perspectives into/against/among/between-whatever the case may be. It is the exposure to different ideas that allow us to think more flexibly and thereby to envision ourselves in situations that we have not yet experienced. The Literature and Medicine seminar is not a class nor is it a therapy, but it allows for internal exploration as well as the external participation in discussion. So much of the impact occurs inside the participants and thus takes some time to be shown or realized."

The impact of this series may best measured following the seminars.  Dr. Dodge states, "There have been studies of Literature and Medicine that show that after the program concludes, participants demonstrate increased empathy for patients, improved interpersonal skills, improved communication skills, increased job satisfaction, and increased cultural awareness."

This cultural competency unit has been enormously popular with LEND trainees and faculty


For additional information, please visit the Ohio Humanities Council, or the Maine Humanities Council.