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Editor's Commentary on 'In School, We Play with Dead Bodies'

 , December 12, 2014

Medical education is a process of becoming. Mansi Shah’s “In School, We Play with Dead Bodies” locates this process within bodies, following its narrator in terse, bright lines from the anatomy lab to the operating room. Through the lens of the body, Shah explores the tension and the suffering inherent in our process of becoming. The dissected body “wars with the unnatural;” a surgeon “scrapes his bones;” arteries harden. Ultimately, Shah finds this tension even within the body of the medical student, who emerges like a scar “transforming from new to toughened.”


The toughening of medical students has been a topic of significant interest since at least the 1920s, when Francis Peabody wrote that “the care of the patient must be completely personal.” Present-day researchers in the medical humanities and social sciences locate threats to physician humanity in the conditions of medical training, in the deluge of scientific knowledge students absorb, and in the constancy of death in our professional lives. Yet the lightness with which Shah’s poem takes on the processes of change that confront medical students—the way her lines skip easily down the page—suggests that her humanity is not so much threatened, as changed. Perhaps physicians cultivate a different humanity, one which will allow us to endure both our lives and our careers.


A deft poet, Shah allows bodies to speak for themselves. She only lightly overlays her particular emotional and intellectual take, bravely leaving this poem to be—as poems should be—up for interpretation. This is Shah’s first published poem, and we are proud to introduce her as an emerging writer.


Rachel Pearson