Who We Are
Pen, Ink, Marker
In 2008, six physicians at Stanford Medical Center formed a writers’ circle. They encompassed nearly all medical specialities and training levels, and they met each month to share their work, first in small, intensive workshops and then at public readings around campus. Because of their affiliation with Medicine and the Muse, Stanford’s medical humanities program, the group called itself the Pegasus Physician Writers–after the mythological winged horse who was the muses’ friend and inspiration. Their vision: to humanize medicine through the craft of writing.
Ten years later, medical humanism is the rise. Humanities education, after a century on the margins, has regained a prominent place in the medical school curriculum. The biopsychosocial case study has become a recurring feature in a major medical journal. Medical storytelling has become performance art. And the Pegasus Physician Writers, under the leadership of director Hans Steiner, have grown to include over 130 authors. These authors, and others, have helped to establish Stanford as a national leader in medical humanities.
To celebrate these accomplishments, and to further advance the cause of a more humane healthcare system, we at Pegasus mark our 10th anniversary by launching The Pegasus Review. As a “medical literary journal” we combine two known quantities—the medical journal and the literary journal—to create relatively a new sort of publication. From the medical journal we borrow a dedication to medicine’s highest ideals: patient confidentiality, intellectual honesty, and an awareness of our biases and limitations. From the literary journal we borrow a devotion to beauty and a commitment to craft. We hope to be a platform for new voices, a proving ground for new ideas, and a forum for the conversations necessary to transform healthcare.
We believe that American healthcare continues to need transformation. Our industry comprises 20% of an economy more unequal than any since 1928. Our patients’ wealth-based mortality gap grows even as their life expectancy shrinks. The same “deaths of despair” responsible for these trends–overdose and suicide–claim unacceptable numbers of our own trainees. We believe the answers to these problems lie with literature as well as science. Like scientists, our authors seek order and meaning amid the chaos of disease.
We believe that medical humanities is not just a transformative movement, but a democratic one. So while our first edition draws mainly from the archives of the Pegasus Physician Writers and Stanford’s The Irvin Yalom Literary and Paul Kalanithi Writing Awards, our publication invites medically-themed literary works from anyone affected by stories of illness–the patients who live them, the healthcare providers who witness them, and the authors who write them down. By honoring suffering through art, we believe these authors embody the writer’s duty as envisioned by William Faulkner over 50 years ago: “a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit,” undertaken to help humanity “endure and prevail.”
Ten years ago, Dr. Rita Charon articulated a “narrative vision for healthcare” in which the stories of illness transform not only the individual healthcare worker, but the entire healthcare system.
Because narrative skills encourage serious communication of even the deepest fears and wildest hopes, health care professionals trained in [these] skills might support the probing, consequential conversations about health care, mercy, and justice that this country so desperately needs.
She was writing as a call to arms. We are here to answer it.
To create a platform for medicine’s unheard & emerging voices.
To probe the interface between healthcare, illness, and the individual.
To return stories to the heart of medicine.