Bless me reader for I have sinned: physicians and confessional writing

Delese Wear, Therese Jones
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 2010, 53 (2): 215-30
From the poetry of William Carlos Williams, the novels of Walker Percy, and the short stories of Anton Chekov to the contemporary essays of Atul Gawande, physicians' contributions to literary genres have been significant. This article explores the specific form of confessional writing offered by physicians during the past half century, writing that often exposes medical error or negative feelings towards patients. A history of confessional practices as a legal tool, as religious practice, and as literary genre is offered, followed by analyses of selected confessional writings by physicians, many of them found in clinical journals such as Journal of the American Medical Association, Annals of Internal Medicine, and the Lancet. The authors of the narratives described here are engaged in several or all elements of the confessional sequence, which may offer them some resolution through the exposure and acknowledgment of their shared humanity with their patients and their expression of regret for any harm done.

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