Intended for healthcare professionals


A poem to benefit health

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 08 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:576
  1. Robin Philipp, consultant occupational physician (Robin.Philipp{at}
  1. Department of Occupational Medicine, Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol BS2 8HW

    EDITOR—Smith asks why doctors are so unhappy.1 Altogether 17 letters were printed in the BMJ after his editorial.2 They included one from Laurence saying that doctors need to be adaptable to change and one from Jakeman saying that doctors should concentrate on positive aspects of their work.2 Davies thought that we could be victims of our misperception of the world and need to have the courage to rediscover our own happiness.2

    These problems and the suggestions are not new. As Epictetus noted in the 4th century BC, “men are disturbed not by things but by the views they take of them.” Centuries later John Keats asked, “Do we retreat from the reality of the outer world into ourselves at times, or do we retreat from the pressures of the outside world into the reality of our inner selves?”3 In 1993 the doctor-poet Dannie Abse, musing on this, commented that “imaginative daydreaming is an escape from the precipitous pessimism of living or dealing with problems and the sphere of sorrow, and it is used to restore balance.”3

    Colleagues and I have asked the question, “Could or does reading or writing poetry benefit health?”4 Given the affirmative response,5 the following poem may help unhappy doctors.

    The tides of change

    In tides of change

    Seas turn sands shift

    Winds blow storms brew

    People posture and position

    Pose and preen with a moving scene;

    Then when it seems that waters rage

    And dirt and mud are outwards flung

    Change tack to ward attack

    Pause to plan and think it through

    Duck dive parry strive to survive;

    Take a chance laugh and start to branch

    Learn to flex flow

    Cut thrust bob bounce

    To stay afloat to beat and dam

    The tides of change.


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