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Prompt: Tools of the Trade

Early surgical tools

What is a tool every new physician needs? In Scotland, they are thinking it is a book of poetry. Medical students there receive a book of poetry intended to help them recharge and be mindful of the human aspect of their vocation.

An article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) alerted me to this program where the graduating medical students in Scotland receive a free copy of a poetry book titled Tools of the Trade: Poems for New Doctors. The pocket-size book is less than 100 pages and designed to be carried while on duty. Poems are grouped into five themes: looking after yourself, looking after others, beginnings, being with illness, and endings. The anthology was put together by the Scottish Poetry Library.

The gift is offered simply as a compassionate friendly gesture. As editors Dr Lesley Morrison and Dr John Gillies write in their introduction: “To care and be compassionate to others, we first need to be compassionate, to look after, to be kind to ourselves.”

Some of the poets are or were doctors themselves, and all the poems speak in some way to the experience of being a junior doctor. Different poems will suit different situations, and readers.

“I remind students in their first week that neglect [of patients] is a real consequence of disregarding the human aspect of what we do,” says David Crossman, dean of the medical school at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, and chief scientist for Scotland. “These poems just bring you back and help you understand who you are talking to.”


The article started me thinking about the kinds of poems I might include in anthologies for other trades and professions. Every job has its tools. Poetry is usually not one of them.

An artist has tools of the trade. The backyard gardener has tools. I wonder what poems we would give them to help in their work?

Our writing prompt for March is to write a poem intended for someone in a particular job. That might your own profession or one that you once aspired to, or something you know very little about but find interesting. It should be a poem that would help them in their work. Maybe it helps them deal with the problems that come with the job, or helps inspire them, or reminds them why they chose to do what they do. 

Submission deadline: Wednesday, April 4, 2018