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Paul O Connor teaches the Literature & Medicine module of the Science and Humanities course for the Department of Public Health & Primary Care at Trinity College Dublin’s School of Medicine. He studied medicine in Trinity until a break in a double pharmacology lecture in his fourth year, at which point he walked out and relocated to the faculty of arts to study literature and history. Combining these two strands of his education, he started in 1997 working with the School of Medicine in TCD to introduce literature into the curriculum, and has since developed numerous courses on how medicine, doctors and ill health are represented in literature and other arts. He has written about medicine for a variety of publications. His last paper – for the 2012 Association for Medical Humanities conference in UCC – was a study of representations of mental health in Sebastian Barry’s ‘The Secret Scripture’ and Hanna Greally’s ‘Birds’ Nest Soup’. His next one is on portrayals of alcohol and alcoholism in Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody? and Anne Enright’s The Gathering for the CFP Cultures of Intoxication conference UCD 2020. He is working on a extensive study of portrayals of healthcare in Irish literature. He works as a freelance editor and writer when he has to.  He can be contacted on

Nice things said about the module last year:

It was a really good experience. Paul really encouraged us to think outside the box and not be afraid of exploration.

this module was very enjoyable, particularly and surprisingly writing poetry, the component I was most apprehensive about.

I though our tutor approached the topic of poetry very well, and knowing our experiences with it, challenged our views of poetry which were primarily formed in a setting whereby interpreting poetry was an obligation.

It has made me look at literature and art very differently. I now tend to read things more carefully while having a deeper appreciation for the literature I come across.

My prior experience with poetry was incredibly limited and I had never tried my hand at writing it. However, the module proved to be an enriching learning experience, one which opened my eyes to a whole other side of medicine, an artistic one which is rarely seen. Paul O’Connor was a great tutor; his energy and passion was truly engaging and his feedback helped greatly in improving our poetry writing skills.

Most importantly, I will try to keep a hold of the artistic, less scientific viewpoint which can prove a useful tool in understanding both people and the subject of medicine better. As we saw in the very first poem we studied, it is crucial to maintain that humanity which sets a doctor apart from an emotionless machine.

This experience was the perfect chance to evaluate life as a medical student from a completely new angle and through the lens of creativity rather than purely through the lens of trying to learn anatomy.

The creative process of writing poetry was quite cathartic for me and provided me with an outlet for the frustrations or musing from my day to day life in medicine.

The overall module was an extremely rewarding experience… The module affected me in profound ways that I could not have anticipated before beginning my elective.

I’m grateful for having been given the opportunity to study this elective and it will remain with me for a long time to come.

As one who was not a fan of writing poems, believing that they were too structured and stiff, forced to fit into a certain structure or style, this experience has certainly been enlightening and rewarding, allowing me to explore poems without rules and boundaries.

It allowed me to appreciate medicine in an artistic way, and that adds on to my existing appreciation of it structurally, procedurally and scientifically. That can only mean I love what I’m doing and learning, but much more after the module.

From 2017 feedback
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