The late Professor George Connor initiated the first literature and medicine reading retreat in February 1987. Readings for that weekend included Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, Saul Bellow's Seize the Day, Alan Paton's Too Late the Phalarope, and a selection of poetry. George began the weekend with "Two Quotations to Ponder."
"I am surprised to find how much of the artist there is in
doctors, for medicine is an art as well as a science and therefore
its techniques demand a certain skill that is not abstract but born
of a connatural intuition. Doctors adapt themselves to situations
pretty much like poets or actors, although they would probably be
incensed to hear me say so. They live their way intuitively into
somebody else's symptoms and search for their secrets as much by
the vital sympathy of art as by their scientific intelligence. In
any case, diseases do not exist all by themselves: thy only present
themselves concretely in patients. Therefore, the physician's art
is respectable because the physician teats not merely diseases but
Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonah, p. 312.
"...I fear that it will be easier for me to say what I am not up
to than to spell out exactly what this book is about. Its history,
I am sure, begins with the dissatisfaction I felt while in
psychiatric training; I grew tired of hearing people typed and
classified-often enough called thinly disguised names, all in the
name of science. At that time I was given a suggestion by one of my
supervisors at The Massachusetts General Hospital, a woman
psychoanalyst much interested in art history. Dr. Elizabeth Zetzel
suggested I read novels and learn from them a more intricate, a
more subtle kind of, psychology ..."
Robert Coles, MD in the preface to Irony in the Mind's Eye