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Bristol neonatologist is prize winning finalist at international poetry award

Last updated: 21/05/2021

Elizabeth Osmond, a consultant neonatologist at St Michael’s Hospital, was one of the prize winning finalists in the 2021 FPM-Hippocrates Health Professional Prize for Poetry and Medicine.

Her poem, ‘Conversations’, was inspired by her work on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the ways in which her young patients communicate without yet being able to speak.

The FPM-Hippocrates Health Professional Prize is open to health service employees, health students and those working in professional organisations anywhere in the world involved in education and training of health professional students and staff.

Poets from 37 countries entered for the 2021 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, with just six shortlisted for the Health Professional Prize.

Talking about her poem, Elizabeth said:

“I wrote this in response to an exercise devised by the poet Kate Clanchy. The exercise imagined talking to someone who cannot talk back and I immediately thought about my patients.

“I thought about how the babies communicate with us, even though they are too young to talk.

“Even a tiny premature baby can tell us if they are in pain or distress and it is important for us to respond to this. When they are settled and soothed their vital signs readings become stable.

“Neonatal intensive care is about hope: of the future child and their potential. This is what I was aiming to show in this poem.”

FPM-Hippocrates Health Professional Prize judge and New York Times senior reporter Anne Barnard said: “The outpouring of work was a joyous and painful reminder of how people around the world sought to create even during this difficult year. The poems reflected how life - and death - appeared to us with new vividness during the pandemic, and also how life and death literally went on alongside it: the more familiar ways of being sick, healing and dying of course did not stop for the global plague.”

She added: “I spend a lot of my time writing news stories, but there is always poetry somewhere in each one. It is inspiring to read the work of hands-on caregivers finding the poetry in their work, be it terrible, beautiful or both.”

The 2021 Hippocrates Prize is supported by medical charity the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine and healthy heart charity the Cardiovascular Research Trust.