About us >> THE PIONEERS
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
SOMERSET MAUGHAM
LEWIS THOMAS
OLIVER WENDEL HOLMES
WALTER CANNON
JOHN KEATS
JAMES HORTON
NOSTRADAMUS
JAMES ENE HENSHAW
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
 
 

THE DOCTOR – WRITER AS A PACEMAKER IN THE HEART OF MEDICINE*

From primeval times, medical doctors have been involved, either directly or indirectly, in the development of literature. As early as the 15th century, William Shakespeare, the famous English poet and playwright had created small but significant roles for doctors in several of his works including King Lear, Pericles and Cymbeline. Early doctor – writers like Somerset Maugham, Thomas Lewis, Oliver Wendel Holmes, William Carlos Williams and Walter Cannon recorded phenomenal successes in their drive to justify this role by establishing and maintaining an intimate relationship between poetic rhymes and the rhymes or rales of medical practice.

“The brutal, painful and primitive world of the big city hospital”, wrote W. C. Williams in his autobiography “is somehow the place where poems are coming to be … The physician enjoys a wonderful opportunity actually to witness the words being born”. Said Somerset Maugham in lending a supportive voice to William’s observation. “I do not know a better training for a writer than to spend some years in the medical profession.”

Interestingly, James Africanus Beale Horton, one of Africa’s pioneer doctors was a renowned prolific writer. Horton, a Sierra Leone-born, Gold Coast-domiciled Nigerian doctor-writer used both his medical armamentarium and literary creativity to change not only the “Medical topography of the West Coast of Africa”, but also the perception of the Africans by the colonial masters. An 1858 medical graduate of King’s College, London, Horton’s profound erudition, distinguished scholarship and outstanding literary accomplishments were loudly acknowledged by his native African people as well as the British colonialists.

Lamentably, much as contemporary Africa can still boast of eminent doctor writers despite the premature loss of such inspiring greats as Angolan Augustino Neto, they are few and far between. It was the glaring paucity of these quintessential doctors that led to the establishment of the CONFEDERATION OF DOCTORS IN LETERATURE, (CODIL), to serve as an umbrella organization for all doctor-writers (established and budding) in Africa as well as stimulate and encourage the development of talents among doctors generally. Programmes of the Confederation include the organization of conferences and writing tours, charity, publication of CODIL NEWS and other inspirational literatures and the administration of James Horton prize for literary excellence.

The cardinal objective of CODIL, as a conglomeration of specially gifted health-care providers, therefore, is the articulation, co-ordination, promotion, protection and projection of not only the LITERATURE OF HEALTH but also the HEALTH OF LITERATURE on the African continent. This is in keeping with the current global trend of marrying ARTS and MEDICINE in the provision of holistic medicare.

Recently, according to ANA NEWS (June 1998), the University of Aberdeen in U.K. announced the commencement of an eight week literature course for final year medical students as from 1999. “It is believed that medical students who have a background in the humanities and science rather than in science alone perform better in some important areas of practice after qualification.” Soon, medical schools in Africa may join their Western counterparts in prescribing this salutary innovation as a prerequisite for the award of medical degrees. It is an incontrovertible fact that writing, like reading, is a health-promoting “food” for the body and soul. While the doctor-writer finds a cathartic outlet for the stress of his professional practice in creative writing, his patients who are fed with his literary sausage are known to enjoy an overwhelming sense of psychological satisfaction and wellbeing.

There is a poem in every word a patient says or fails to say which can be distilled, processed and administered (back) to him as “medicine” to heal his body and soul.
This is the fundamental goal of CODIL. WELCOME ABOARD THE CODIL TRAIN.

*(Full text of Martin Akpan's address at the launch of CODIL (now ISDL) in 1999)

 

 
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