UAMS Celebrates Creative Writing at Second Annual Mehta Awards

By Andrew Vogler

Beginning in 2020, a generous endowment was provided to encourage employees and students to explore creative writing as a way to experience life, communicate with patients and alleviate work-related stress. The Drs. Paulette and Jay Mehta Award in Creative Writing was born from the idea that the creative arts can help health care providers process their experiences and express their artful insight through poetry and narrative.

On May 25 an in-person awards ceremony was held to honor the three winners of the second annual Mehta Awards (due to COVID-19 restriction, last year’s ceremony occurred virtually).

Paulette Mehta

Paulette Mehta, M.D., MPH, a professor of internal medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, speaks to ceremony attendees.Evan Lewis

The program, an annual invitational that accepts writing submissions from all areas of UAMS, was made possible by a generous gift from Paulette Mehta, M.D., MPH, a professor of internal medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, and Jawahar “Jay” Mehta, M.D., Ph.D., a distinguished professor in the Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Cardiology, Physiology and Biophysics. Under the auspices of the Department of Medical Humanities & Bioethics, the program is a continuation of the Mehtas efforts to create a “cultural renaissance” at UAMS, which includes stewardship of the publication of UAMS’ literary journal Medicine and Meaning.

“There are many reasons why doctors should write, but maybe most importantly it is a way to help heal, not only for our patients but for ourselves,” said Paulette Mehta. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was observed that around 50% of UAMS staff suffered from burnout. However, those who had meaning in their work were more resistant to burnout, and we feel creative expression is a great way to develop this sense of meaning.”

Submissions for the Mehta Awards were accepted in fall 2021, with over 40 members of the UAMS community submitting works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Entries were blind reviewed by a committee and ultimately, one piece from each of three categories were elevated to top prize, receiving a $600 award and plaque, with four additional works receiving honorable mention.  All winning entries will be published in the summer supplement of Medicine and Meaning.

Submissions recognized for top prize and honorable mention include: 

Top Prizes

  • Poetry Award Winner: “Life outside the cell” by Samuel Byrd
  • Fiction Award Winner: “Feeding Animals” by Stephen Nix, M.D.
  • Creative Nonfiction Award Winner: “The Window” by Elizabeth Hanson, M.D.

Honorable Mention

  • “Losing Keller” by Lindsey Johnson, RN
  • “Weary Land” by F. Alex Wells, M.A.
  • “The Last Days of Silky Wooten” by Jamie Watson, Ph.D.
  • “On maintaining humanity in medicine” by Jaleesa Jackson, M.D.

During the ceremony, Byrd read his poem, and Nix and Hanson read excerpts from their short stories.

Though an honor to be recognized, it is ultimately the hope of the organizers that the program will inspire creative expression, in many forms, as ways

Stephanie Gardner

Stephanie Gardner, Pharm. D., Ed.D., UAMS provost and chief strategy officer, gives the opening remarks for the ceremony.Evan Lewis

to communicate feelings and connect with others on deep levels, especially to manage the high demands of health care — representing an intersection between science and art.

“These awards speak to the Mehtas’ belief in the ability of creativity and the arts to nourish our spirits, to cultivate lifelong learning and to guide us to becoming better health care providers,” said Stephanie Gardner, Pharm. D., Ed.D., UAMS provost and chief strategy officer. “As we find more ways to integrate the arts into health professions education — whether it’s the written word, visual arts or music — I believe we are equipping our learners with a powerful tool to help them form deeper connections with patients, maintain joy in medicine and develop empath and resiliency.”

The chair of the review committee is D. Micah Hester, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Medical Humanities & Bioethics. The review committee consists of Eliza Borné, Central Arkansas Library System; Lindsey Clark, MPH, MLS, UAMS College of Health Professions; Chris Dumas, Ph.D., MFA, UAMS College of Nursing; Casey Kayser, Ph.D., University of Arkansas – Fayetteville’s Department of English; and Angela Scott, M.D., Ph.D., UAMS Department of Medical Humanities & Bioethics.