Episode 5: Novels & Medicine

How can reading novels affect the way doctors and patients communicate?

When a patient enters the emergency room, they may be experiencing one of the most dramatic moments in their life story. For the doctor, it may be one of many cases they’ll encounter that day. How does narrative affect the way doctors treat patients? And how can reading novels help medical providers navigate the narrative disaster zone of the ER?


In the final episode of Season 2 of Public Books 101, two emergency-room physicians, Dr. Jay Baruch and Dr. Rishi Goyal, join our host, Nicholas Dames, to consider how novels like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go can inform the practice and ethics of medicine.



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View a transcript of the episode here.


Our guests

  • Dr. Jay Baruch is a professor of emergency medicine at Alpert Medical School at Brown University and director of the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Scholarly Concentration at Brown. He is also a fiction writer and essayist; his books of fiction include Fourteen Stories: Doctors, Patients, and Other Strangers (2007) and What’s Left Out (2015), and his essay collection, Tornado of Life, is forthcoming from MIT Press.
  • Dr. Rishi Goyal is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center and jointly appointed in the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society and the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics. He holds a PhD in English and comparative literature from Columbia University.
  • Nicholas Dames, this season’s host, is an editor in chief of Public Books and the Theodore Kahan Professor of Humanities in the department of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. His most recent book is The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction (2007). He has written on contemporary fiction, novel reading, and the humanities for the Atlanticn+1, the NationNew Left Review, the New Yorker, and the New York Times Book Review.


Mentioned in this episode

  • Books: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World
  • Authors: Kurt Vonnegut, George Eliot
  • Biomedical-ethics issues: designer babies, organ trades, Dolly the clone

Further reading

Jay recommends:


Rishi recommends:


This episode was produced by Annie Galvin and is licensed under a Creative Commons-Attribution License (CC-BY 4.0)icon