Poetry submissions start November 1st!
Pritzker Poetry Contest Categories
Rules & Guidelines
Timeline & Judging

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 Excellence.

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

surprising because

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

need space

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:

(untitled)Bryan Smith

I would still choose her again

(husband after his young wife died in the ICU)

Six-Word Poem, Second Place award of $250.00:

(untitled)Zaina Zayyad

"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

And a small,



She nods yes, recalls the pills

Like pearls.

Wave them away

They linger.

Scars shine, pearly,

Then glare

Madness that made them

She nods yes,

These pearls have weight.

Strangers by Nolan Faust

You must think you died next to a stranger.

But what does it mean to know someone?

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 stranger. 

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
Relinquished from
A reluctant femoral artery
Testified failure

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

…Defibrillator pads
Still stuck
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,

As house and man shall both return to ashes.

The Fall by Richard Loeb

Her Pain devours marrow from the bone

And seeping slow it leaks into her blood

Inflames the sinew, stirs an angry mud

Her frame, once light, is now a ragged stone.

Her body turned against her in her age

Each passing season rich with agonies

This body once her ally in its day

Betrays her – trades her comfort for disease.

Relief she’s sought it seems like everywhere

Still nothing’s made her body hers again.

A Drug’s relief is false, but in the end

It’s real enough to wash away the terror.

And now the Drug’s the only thing that’s real,

To go without simply too much to feel.

Admission 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

Student laughs

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 & light.

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,

or into

the eyes of another human being

Let's be clear by Gerardo Palos

If there was

no Tomorrow

would you do it all today,

leave nothing unsaid

have no regrets

no words left to say,

say them all today

for today is the day,

today we are here

tomorrow may never come,

let us be clear today

tomorrow is just a blur,

let the unspoken words be spoken

tomorrow we may never know,

today I shall speak

and come clean

for these words

may be the last words I ever speak

for tomorrow may never come.

A 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

recovered from

third-worlds next door,

haunted meanwhile

by decisions made

of life and death,


needs forgotten

appointments stalled

conversations abrupted--

to meet the ceaseless bidding of

electronic taskmasters;

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

progress made

a victory won

and spirits saved; with

hearts now mended

sinews strengthened

pain abated and

death diverted;

with cancer cured,

with hope restored

How to Be Wrong by Claire Smith

The patient presents as hypochromic

red cells on smear, and I don’t know the answer,

so instead think of the professor

who I know wrote this question, consider

his hobbies, her degrees, the axes he has to grind,

what things she might be trying to teach me—

an exception, a rule, that symptoms

can be absent until death, that cells efface

the page, that the patient’s avocation is key, that

just like everybody watches NASCAR

for the hits we remember best the questions

we get wrong. In the sham operation, the doctors talked

as if real cuts were being made. Today

I must be right more times than wrong

to continue with the privilege of wrongness

with slowly increasing stakes. The patient

presents as a descending list of what’s likely.

The patient feels like an elephant’s sitting 

on her chest. The patient knows you can’t

check pulses that quickly.

The patient presents on the worst day

of her life and I slow down while reading

to bring my hand to hover over my heart.

I circle ‘D.’ The person in the question

is dying. The professor isn’t trying

to trick us. How to live forever:

A) procreate

B) give years to others

C) become a question

D) 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 glittering

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,

Let me.

(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.

I'm sorry.         

(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)

Poem Categories
Poem Categories

There are two poem categories for the 2015-2016 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 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
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 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
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