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Pritzker Poetry Contest

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.


We are happy to announce the winners for the 2014-15 Pritzker Poetry Contest below.  Please also enjoy the 2014-15 finalists in each category.  




Open Poem, First Place award of $1,000:     “An Intern’s Prayer” by Victoria Okuneye
My nails are stubs of insecurity
Chipped fuchsia, canvases of neglect
My skin is rough
There are calluses and blisters
Anything but smooth
I'm afraid these hands weren't made to sooth
See how my pinky still quivers
How the scalpel shakes in these hands
like they are scared they'll break something
or worse yet someone
These palms have never healed anyone
Most days I can't save myself
So though I don't pray much
I'm on my knees, fingers clasped
begging the lord for gifted hands
Open Poem, Second Place award of $500:    “Already Knows” by Arun Aneja

Where does it hurt, when did it start?
Twenty pound weight loss, since end of March
Have you seen the films, has it spread very far?
Biopsy reassure me, lend more than a scar
The other doctors, what do they seem to think?
Chemo, radiation, willing to throw kitchen sink
Nights of nausea and hair falling
Clinical trials, I can hear them calling
Are these the ways you wish to spend the end?
The pain persists, even after I have taken the limb.
These are the thoughts, in my head they grow
As I ask the parents, the child already knows…
Six-Word Poem, First Place award of $500:   Untitled. By Hasenin Al-Khersan


When I cannot remember,
Don't forget.

(An Alzheimer patient's request to her family)


Six-Word Poem, Second Place award of $250.00: Untitled. By Bow Young Chung

one donor
forty recipients
one heart

(inspired by roomful of family and friends praying after a successful heart transplant)


Open Form Finalists:
1.    "What do you do with your hope?" by Marc Robinson

What do you do with your hope?
That silent prayer to unnamed gods,
Bellows to a soul’s ember.
When futures cease to exist,
And the past becomes tales
That none will remember.
Do you cast it out?
Into a sea of probabilities,
Sinking below waves of the inevitable.
Do you worship it?
As a golden calf,
Its gleam blanching reality.
Do you hide it?
In the mind’s recess,
Hidden from embarrassment.
Do you rediscover it?
In the anguished eyes
Of steadfast kith and kin.
In the knowledge
That a billion sunrises and sunsets
Will follow your name.
That no prayer you hear is silent,
And a fading ember is still a flame.
What do you do with your hope?

2.    "The Search" by Omar Malas

I diligently search for her every morning
sneaking carefully through a jungle of IV poles
to where she had last been seen.
My gloved hand sits softly on her shoulder
and I call to her.
“Can you open your eyes?” I ask,
well aware of the answer.
She is motionless
her lips curl into an ever-open mouth
her skin a patchwork of spots and stories
once known but long forgotten.
Her son searches for her as well
his head bowed, his fingers interlocked
calling silently to her at the top of his lungs.
His face wrinkles with worry
barely masked by his thick white beard.
Our eyes meet and I force a smile.
He nods with somber persistence
before lowering his head to continue the search.
I pause outside her door and look inside.
So much had changed.
The walls, the bed, the craning white orchid
were all the same.
But I knew her before.
A sharp mind and a fearless smile
accompanied her with unwavering loyalty
diagnosis after diagnosis.
I saw the depth in her eyes
satisfaction earned through a lifetime of deficiency
contentment found in quiet moments of trust.
I will not lose hope, I will not break my resolve.
I take a deep breath, adjust my tie, and stride in
intent on searching for her once more.


3.    "What not to be" by Sonja Boatman

Stern voice:
now don't you be

Steel eyes:
scan smooth faces
from one
to the other
sister and baby brother

Stern voice:
now don't you be
one of those mothers

Steel eyes:
her daughter her son

Gruff fingers:
grip faces

Steel eyes:
pierce secret places

First conclusion:
daughter normal

Next conclusion:
son abnormal

The Physician:
Now don't you be
one of those mothers
who cries.

says Stern Voice Steel Eyes Gruff Fingers to
the mother our mother my mother

4.   "A Suspicion" by Elijah Darnell

I suspect there's more to know about you.
You are more than your fear
More than your hospital gown
More than your disease
More, even, than your smile
I suspect there's more to know about you.
Secrets hidden even from yourself
Memories, beliefs, thoughts
Stories of a different life
I suspect there's more to know about you.
But I worry I'll never find out
Perhaps your thoughts are closed to us now
Like a wave that has already broken--
spilling your secrets in the sand
then pulled back to sea
Dementia couldn't take everything, though.
You smile at the man checking your vitals
Though you can't remember who he is.
Radiating kindness in a confusing world
You say: spoon, sprocket, rocket, look!
Word Salad.
That's OK, I know what you meant
Your tone of voice
Your energy
The light in your eyes
These all send the message clearly
I suspect there is more to know about you, too!

5.    "Heaviness in My Heart" by Aparna Sharma

My eyes are downcast, my head down with shame
You enter the room and say my name
Mr. D How are you feeling? Everything okay, you ask
Yes. Everything is fine or as good as it can be
Yet there is this heaviness in my heart that won't let me be
No there is no pain, I don't have chest pain
It is not something I can describe using numbers or words
You probably can't understand it in the twenty minutes you have with me before your pager rings again
Your politeness stings too..sterile words of sympathy hurt as well
The look of contempt on your face betraying it all
Do you smoke? Yes, I do
And I drink heavy just to numb the pain
You can't see the emptiness in my heart
and the EKG would hardly be a good place to start
No medical test will be able to reveal
What I've been through and how I feel
Today I swallowed some pills just so I could end it all
You may find it absurd, I do too
After all, I am only nineteen
Why you ask? Why did I do it?
I like you Doc, I really do
And I never would wish a fate like this on you
But I wish that just once, and only for a minute I pray,
that you can feel this heaviness in my heart that won't go away.

6.    "Loved" by Malini Sur

tonight I saw a father on Madison avenue
walking with his daughter, must have been about two
brought me right back to the night when I first met you
I wondered what you'd say to those you'd be leaving soon

though I will never see you
know that you are loved
though I have got to leave you
know that you are loved
your wife is keeping vigil, she never does go home
I wonder if she knows how long she'll have til she's alone
whose hands are these that roll the dice? I guess nobody knows
your father suffered just like you forty years ago

and I studied well your story, I know your malady
everything there is to know about your disease
but I fail to see the reason in tragedies like these
answers that I cannot find linger in my sleep

though I won't get to see you grow
know that you are loved
and we may not live to be old
know that you are loved

7.    "The Healing" by Vesna Petronic-Rosic

She looks through the window
And what does she see
A reflection of self
The shadow of Me
The deep-seated pain
The hollow within
Where to look now
Where to begin
Flaws in the window
Is all she can see
Where am I, she weeps
Why don’t I see Me
A teardrop reflects
The sorrow, the flight
And then she sees distant
A soothing, bright light
As softness spreads out
The healings begin
The crevasses yield
To beauty within
She looks to the window
Where one used to be
A doorway she sees now
And cries t’is for Me

8.    "Universal Donor" by Christina Chen

I have something you hold dear
You emergency gusher
You recumbent anemic
You euphoric new mother

I have seen the color red
Red circles with white centers
Red milk curdling opaque
Red fountain balloons contained

I have searched for my purpose
My palm wide bruise breeds darker
My vertigo mind quickens
My next step carries content

Butterfly’s kiss
It is yours

Six Word Finalists:

1.    "Left Behind" by Nolan Faust

Sanity calls; my mind keeps runnin’

(A patient’s perspective on mental illness)

2.    "Contagion" by Christina Chen

smile or grimace
eye wrinkles reveal
(the doctor-patient relationship through a face mask)

3.    "After Singing Happy Birthday to an inpatient, the doctor says …" by Philip Carullo.

Today, this is how we heal.

4.    Untitled by Ryan McKillip.

Apathy is a white coat stained.

5.    "Five Words" by Candice Jackson

Heartfelt...I'm sorry for your loss

6.    "Brave souls" by Kunmi Sobowale

Doctors died alongside patients. Brave souls.  

(A conversation on Ebola with a Liberian Priest)

7.    "Miracles in the OR" by Lisa Moore

A new father sings
Such tenderness

8.    "The Price of a Cure" by Shane Pearce

Purpose binds… solitary together… paused succession

(Young testicular cancer survivor moving past treatment into the challenges of starting a family)
Poem Categories
Poem Categories

There are two poem categories for the 2014-2015 Pritzker Poetry Contest: (1) the Open Form category, and (2) the Six Word category.

Open Form   Six Word
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
Neuro ICU
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
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 2014-2015 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
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 public forum.

The timeline for the 2014-2015 Pritzker Poetry Contest is as follows:

  • November 21, 2014: Opening day for poem submission.
  • February 6, 2015: Final day for poem submission.
  • February 6, 2015: Finalist selection begins.
  • February 16, 2015: Finalists announced on this site. Winners selection begins.
  • March 23, 2015: Winners are notified.
  • April 24, 2015: 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
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