There’s an elite literary magazine for broken-hearted doctors

Even surgeons need an outlet.
Even surgeons need an outlet.
Image: Reuters/Yonathan Weitzman
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Danielle Ofri never thought she would be the editor-in-chief of a literary journal. After receiving her MD/PhD, she assumed that she would spend her life doing bench science in a laboratory.

And yet, for the past 16 years, she has been juggling practicing medicine at Bellevue Hospital, teaching at New York University’s medical school, and working with a team of writers and editors to produce the bi-annual Bellevue Literary Review, a literary magazine for healthcare providers, patients, and caregivers.

Ofri and Martin Blaser, the founding publisher of the BLR, created the public literary magazine in 2000. Ofri told Quartz that annually, they receive close to 5,000 submissions of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for only 70 available slots. According to STAT, this high volume of submissions actually gives BLR a lower acceptance rate than the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals.

“There’s tons of stuff that’s excellent that we have to turn down,” she says. Space is limited due to the costs of printing pages.

Ofri herself has found writing to be therapeutic. She completed her residency at Bellevue Hospital during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and after the “very intense death and destruction,” she needed a break. She took a year and a half off to write and process before returning as an attending physician. “That ability to turn it over and over and reexamine it I think was what I needed to find a place…for those experiences to settle within me,” she says.

Submissions in the BLR feature pieces written from a variety of perspectives, including health-care professionals, patients, and family or friends. Ofri thinks that there’s a universality to the lack of control felt throughout any experience in a hospital setting. ”You can get by in life and maybe never need a plumber or a lawyer, but you’re not going to get through life and never face the medical system,” Ofri says, “When people enter the medical system, it strips them of who they are…I think that sense of vulnerability is a similar vein from where creativity arises.”

BLR offers prizes for different categories each year; submissions for the 2016 writing contest begin March 1. Additionally, writers can submit their work to Pulse, an online journal, or for awards such as the Hippocrates Prize for poetry and medicine (its young poets category, for 14- to 18-year-olds, considers international submissions through Feb. 29).

Excepts from some of the poetry featured in the magazine can be found below:

Writing Poems on Antidepressants:

Metaphors are easy
to come by when you’re aching
or pining or wounded in love,
which scientists have proven is a type of madness
and madness can be cured with a pill.

The Oncologist:

“You know we have counseling,”
she says cheerily. I nod.
“And a writing group.

Would you like to join?”
I imagine an unsharpened pencil,
and a blank page,
tell her, no. Is this denial?

Spring Comes, and Then:

The lilies wilt as you count
the lumps in your belly.
One little, two little,
three little jelly
beans, no, golf balls, no,
baby fists.


I dressed her wound
after the biopsy
a scarlet braid
laced with black thread.