Thank you for your contributions and interest in the Pritzker Poetry Contest,
dedicated to inspiring compassion in medicine. Maintaining lifelong compassion
for patients is fundamentally important to the practice of medicine. For
millennia, poetry has inspired and fostered significant emotions for both the
reader and writer. Thus, channeling the power of poetry through introspection
can enhance relationships, improve care, and better quality of life, for
patients and personnel alike.
A very special thanks to Dr. Rama Jager and University Retina who
sponsor the contest and provide the financial support for the awards, as well
as Associate Dean of Students, Dr. Jim Woodruff, who spearheaded the contest.
Many thanks are due as well to Dr. Mark Siegler, who has graciously
invited the poetry contest winners to read their poems and receive their awards
at the 2016 Spring Symposium of the Bucksbaum Institute of Clinical
Finally, a sincere gratitude and heartfelt thanks to all those who
participated in the Pritzker Poetry Contest. Your words and the spirit of
empathy, generosity, and care conveyed by your poetry were greatly moving.
We are happy to announce the winners for the 2015-16 Pritzker Poetry Contest below. Please also enjoy the 2015-16 finalists in each category.
Open Poem, First Place award of $1,000:
to be a great owner of a butterflyby Lea Hoefer
it was something I came across - a child's words
thanking her teacher for teaching her multiplication, division, map skills
and how to be a great owner of a butterfly
although great butterfly owners must learn to be patient and gentle
and deeply kind to fragile creatures
unlike multiplication and division and map skills
no one measures these skills
and rarely do we notice so clearly when someone is teaching us these things
I think it may be the same in medicine
it is easy to measure whether or not we can calculate oncotic pressure
we remember who taught us how to diagnose anemia
yet it is just as important to learn how to be patient and gentle
and deeply kind
and sometimes simultaneously strong and certain and confidence inspiring?
we start out fumbling
and along the way
(careful: they are not always called "teacher")
someone taught you how to be a great holder of hands
but also that there were times that someone might just
there was a person who told you to slow your heart and calm your mind
as the hairs on your skin rose
in anticipation of the unfolding crisis
you were not born knowing
how to stay standing, all at once soft and strong and quiet
on the worst day of someone else's life
do you remember who showed you these things?
who was it?
that taught you how to be a great owner of a butterfly?
Open Poem, Second Place award of $500:
(untitled) by Willard Sharp
Life has kicked me around
And taught me a thing or two
For sixty years I worked my bones, slowly growing old
Now all I have on me are words to say
Who would have foretold?
Thoughts no one much seems to want to hear
My presence, few could care.
So pleased to see you now
Sit down and stay a while
So pleased to see you now
Stay and share your smile
Your compassion and gentle touch
A light of hope in the darkness
My body worn and battered
Is long beyond your technology ‘s ability to save
And yet your care is healing
Giving hope beyond measure
You restore humanity, once though forever lost
Giving my soul new hope for the future
Six-Word Poem, First Place award of $500:
I would still choose her again
(husband after his young wife died in the ICU)
Six-Word Poem, Second Place award of $250.00:
"We will watch and wait, together."
(a shared decision, made)
Open Form Finalists:
Embers by Hasenin Al-Khersan
He takes her gentle hand in his.
A soft squeeze says all that he cannot.
He wipes away her tears;
His own begin to fall.
Their love like autumn's embers
Paints their approaching horizon
With the thousand brilliant hues
Of a last day's last light,
Vivid if not bright.
Not a word is said;
Not a word unsaid.
A language all their own
Their hearts never tire of hearing.
Pearls by Lindsay Chun
Laugh with broken teeth
nods yes, recalls the pills
that made them
pearls have weight.
Strangers by Nolan Faust
You must think you died next to a
But what does it mean to know
Is it to share fears?
Because in the depths of your eyes
and the staccato of the monitor,
beeping slower and slower yet,
I felt a life of triumphs and
failures and loves flash by.
I’m holding your hand.
And you don’t feel like a
Muscle Memory by Catherine Humikowski
It’s a blur to me now
Ten years ago
When I first compressed
A human chest
Masses of people
Beeping and shouts
Charge clear shock
Dark acidic blood
A reluctant femoral artery
My chest and arms ached for days
From the physical collision
Of trying to beat life
Back into that man
Ten years later
My chest and arms ached again
With odd similarity
On the other side of that proverbial fence
It occurred to me slowly at first
As the propofol haze faded into focus
Why my chest should hurt now
Like it did then
No voice would come
To aid my query
Arms swollen, purple with clot
Reached up, searching
Over the heart now beating
After having been beaten
The ache in my sternum
And under every rib
Was somehow familiar
And suddenly I knew—
Like a flashbulb it popped—
Ten years ago where we had failed
Last night they succeeded
With chests and arms engaged
They hauled me back
My life restored
Under the power of their hands
Phoenix by Andrew Lee
I tell him of a house ablaze in fire;
The red attrition sparks and spreads with speed,
And black of smoke attacks and chokes up higher,
Until, through trial and toil, the flames recede.
But now returns the inferno even stronger,
From embers, reignited into flames;
What saved this once before will work no longer;
To fight it all would destroy it just the same.
I tell him that I cannot cure his cancer,
That any drug I give will do no good,
But hope this metaphor can give him answers
That all his labs and studies never could.
He rests his eyes, and tears hang on his lashes,
house and man shall both return to ashes.
Fall by Richard Loeb
Her Pain devours marrow from the
And seeping slow it leaks into her
Inflames the sinew, stirs an angry
Her frame, once light, is now a
Her body turned against her in her
Each passing season rich with
This body once her ally in its day
Betrays her – trades her comfort for
Relief she’s sought it seems like
Still nothing’s made her body hers
A Drug’s relief is false, but in the
It’s real enough to wash away the
And now the Drug’s the only thing
To go without simply too much to
Reflection by Doriane Miller
Admission, another one for placement
Parkinson’s dementia and pneumonia
Tune him up, buff him up
Better than his ’67 Chevy
Team enters his room
Time for Bedside Rounds!
He is silent, slouching, shaking
Resident asks, Sir, how do feel?
A stacatto response: With my fingers
His eyes twinkle
Housestaff are silent
Twinkling eyes go dark
He needs a FASTHUG
Window to the Soul by Lisa Moore
The Sushruta Samhita
describes in Sanskrit
ancient surgical instruments
& techniques of ophthalmology.
Science has replaced
those swirling scrolls with
modern code to order & isolate
a globe of such physical precision.
To enter this spherical world,
aqueous & full of light,
you must navigate chambers
& float through canals,
refracting & converging angles,
& sinister crypts of color.
The crystalline lens lures,
accommodating our lust for beauty.
From a bloodless blanket
of whitest white,
to coursing rivers of red,
explore the realms of dark &
Gaze out of an oculus
more grand than the pantheon
to glimpse the world beyond
and ponder what we cannot see.
But with all this knowledge gained
you must ask yourself
if what you see is greater
when you look inside,
eyes of another human being
be clear by Gerardo Palos
you do it all today,
words left to say,
them all today
today is the day,
we are here
us be clear today
is just a blur,
the unspoken words be spoken
we may never know,
be the last words I ever speak
tomorrow may never come.
day in the life... by Usama Qadri
The crushing strain
of sleepless nights and
sunless days spent
pacing lonely corridors
of neglect, salvaging
bodies in disrepair
third-worlds next door,
by decisions made
of life and death,
to meet the ceaseless bidding of
running on fumes
of packaged meals,
inured almost to suffering
deserted by a team
stretched far too thin
within a system
too long broken
—all melts away
from memory, with
a victory won
and spirits saved; with
hearts now mended
pain abated and
with cancer cured,
with hope restored
to Be Wrong by Claire Smith
patient presents as hypochromic
cells on smear, and I don’t know the answer,
instead think of the professor
I know wrote this question, consider
hobbies, her degrees, the axes he has to grind,
things she might be trying to teach me—
exception, a rule, that symptoms
be absent until death, that cells efface
page, that the patient’s avocation is key, that
like everybody watches NASCAR
the hits we remember best the questions
get wrong. In the sham operation, the doctors talked
if real cuts were being made. Today
must be right more times than wrong
continue with the privilege of wrongness
slowly increasing stakes. The patient
as a descending list of what’s likely.
patient feels like an elephant’s sitting
her chest. The patient knows you can’t
pulses that quickly.
patient presents on the worst day
her life and I slow down while reading
bring my hand to hover over my heart.
circle ‘D.’ The person in the question
dying. The professor isn’t trying
trick us. How to live forever:
B) give years to others
C) become a question
carve your initials into trees.
Immortal by Zaina Zayyad
Today is a sunny day, a sunny day in winter -
To her, it is spring.
Even though there are snowy days ahead,
Today she hears the birds singing and sees the ice
with the promise of spring
It sounds like hope, it looks like hope.
Hope feels like home.
Then Spring vanished in an instant,
And a night began to fall.
She woke up on a cloud,
Woke up to the kindest eyes
With the gentlest touch,
They told her these would be her last days.
They would care for her, they said
She could rest.
No, these were not her last days.
She was sure these were the days
In which she became immortal.
Immortal because even for a minute,
Even for a day
Even for a week—
(She could not remember which)
Someone had cared for her.
With all the pain and none of it,
With the light slowly fading out of focus,
With the slowing beeps from the side of her bed
With the hum of voices slowly filtering through
The quiet pattering of soft footsteps,
The gentle tuck of a gentle hand,
These were the days in which she become immortal.
Six Word Finalists
Promise Hasenin Al-Khersan
If I go,
(A patient discusses his end of life preferences with his family and medical team)
Abandoning Formality by Carolyn Culberg
"Thank you for calling me that."
(A cancer patient grateful the PA used his old nickname)
(untitled) by Jane Domingo
Drop, drop...oh, let it rain!
(Nurse on showing compassion).
(untitled) by Joseph Gibes
Autumn's leaves, falling -- such heartbreaking beauty.
(Caring for hospice patients)
Dr. Cartby Amy Ho
Epi Epi Epi.
(On the juxtaposition between a medical death and a loss of a life)
I didn't want you to check on meby Kathryn Kinasz
But since you're here... please stay
(A medical student responding to the call of a teenager in pain crisis)
(untitled)by Richard Loeb
And still, life is a blessing
Graceful Truthby Geeta Maker-Clark
First quiet listener... true story unfolding.
(Starting the conversation, when was the last time you felt well? and then listening without judgment or interruption)
hoping for a cureby Lisa Moore
there is no backup plan
(untitled)by Kumar Sukhdeo
I hear your heart without stethoscopes.
(On listening to a patient)
There are two poem categories for the 2015-2016 Pritzker Poetry Contest:
(1) the Open Form category, and (2) the Six Word category.
|For the Open Form category,
submit a poem in any form (sonnet, haiku, prose, etc.), which inspires
compassionate care of patients. Please avoid including any specific patient identifying information
in the poem and limit the poem to 250 words or less.
||For the Six Word category,
submit a poem in exactly six words that exemplifies compassion
in medicine. The poem may contain a byline that provides additional context, but the poem
itself must have only six words. Please avoid including any specific patient identifying
information in the poem. An example with a byline is provided below
The intensity with which I feel
Reminds me this is something real,
That life's a fickle, fragile thing,
A fluid, finite offering,
Capable of higher thought—
Analysis of theme and plot,
Discourse on the daily news,
Creating art, defending views--
And yet how swift its ebb and flow,
How instantly it seems to go.
And leave whole families behind,
Trying desperately to find
The fragments of their memory,
That shape the life which used to be.
Patience when asking one... or two...
(an ophthalmology resident refracting an Alzheimer's patient)
Rules and Guidelines
Please read the following requirements for submission in their entirety. All poems must
strictly adhere to these guidelines to be considered in the 2015-2016 Pritzker Poetry Contest.
Please note that if a poem is deemed inappropriate by reviewers,
the contest moderators reserve the right to remove it or refrain from posting it.
- Submissions will only be accepted online on this site
- Submissions must be original
- Submissions must be written in English
- Submissions must not be under consideration for publication*
- Submissions must not have been previously published*
- Submissions must not have any patient-identifying information or protected health information, in accordance with HIPAA regulations
- Entrants must have a valid CNET ID
- Entrants are limited to one entry per category
- Entrants must allow their work to be published on this website and/or in a University of Chicago publication (e.g., Medicine on the Midway, the Pritzker Pulse, etc.)*
* Note: Participants will be allowed to submit their work for publication in a scholarly journal after the contest is over.
Timeline and Judging
Once all entries are received and screened for inappropriate content, poems will enter a first round of
judging to select ten finalists in each poem category. All finalist
entries will then be posted on this website for the community to read, and enjoy. The finalist poems will advance to the
final round of judging, in which judges from a multidisciplinary panel will select winning submissions.
Winners will be notified by the Pritzker Poetry Contest committee, awarded prize monies, and honored in a
The timeline for the 2015-2016 Pritzker Poetry Contest is as follows:
- March 10, 2016: Finalists announced on this site. Winners selection begins.
- March 15, 2016: Winners are notified.
- Spring 2016: Winners are honored at a public forum and awarded prize monies.
The following prizes will be awarded to winning entries in each of the poem categories:
- Open Poem, First Place: $1,000.00
- Open Poem, Second Place: $500.00
- Six-Word Poem, First Place: $500.00
- Six-Word Poem, Second Place: $250.00