Cardiologist John F. Harper ’68 can still vividly remember waking in the middle of the night to the sound of his father crying out in pain.
It was 1964 and Harper was 17 years old – just a year shy of starting college at SMU. But he was as frightened as a small child that night when he peeked through a cracked-open bedroom into the hallway of his West Texas home. A physician named Bruce Hay was arriving at 3 a.m., impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit, his black doctor’s bag in hand, to offer his father aid.
Harper’s father was a bear of a man, a former basketball player named Frank who was his son’s hero. The doctor walked up to Harper’s father, put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Frank, it’s OK. I’m here now, and I’ll stay until you’re better.”
And then he did. The doctor tended to Harper’s dad, answered his mother’s concerns, and even reassured the young man who was watching from a bedroom door.
That’s the kind of personal touch Harper says is often missing from medicine these days. The key to getting it back, he says, may be literature. That’s why he’s hosting the 7th annual Literature + Medicine Conference from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 1, 2017 in SMU’s Mack Ballroom, Umphrey Lee Center.
“Science has become so complex and hard to keep up with that it’s a legitimate thing to say you don’t have time to be empathetic, but it’s important to try,” says Harper, the Ewton Chair of Cardiology at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. “My argument is that you need good science to be a good doctor, but you also need a compassionate side. The best medicine is science and compassion intersecting at the patient.
“We’re trying to get young physicians, medical students and premedical students to understand that literature can affect the way they approach patients in a positive fashion.”
Though members of the public are welcome to attend the Literature + Medicine Conference, it’s those young physicians and medical students who are the primary audience of the annual event. The conference will feature a series of breakout sessions on topics like “Antidotes to Clinical Burnout: Creative Reading and Writing Foster Physician Satisfaction” and “How Poetry Can Heal the Healers.”
The results of the conference’s annual writing contests will also be revealed, with a cash prize on the line for the winners.
Attendance is $40; the fee is waived for medical residents, students and medical house officers.
— Kenny Ryan