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Emotional Life: Exploring Contradictions in Health Behavior Through Creative Writing in Public Health Education

Saffran, Lise MPH, MFA

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001827
Invited Commentaries

Weaving personal experience with literature on social determinants and health humanities, the author argues that including art and literature in public health education will benefit efforts to integrate health care and public health by reminding practitioners that communities are composed of individuals with complicated and often contradictory impulses. She argues that those whose work involves planning interventions and reviewing population data also need to perform the tasks of mental flexibility, of imagination, to think about the people behind the numbers. Together with colleagues at the University of Missouri, the author researches the role of creative writing and imagination in reducing HIV stigma and finds hopeful signs in student responses that they are prepared to consider the contradictions present in human behavior if they are given the opportunity to reflect deeply upon them. Creative writing, literature, and art belong in public health education, she argues, because that is how we make space for emotion in our lives and how we connect with the emotional lives of others.

L. Saffran is director, Master of Public Health Program, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.

Funding/Support: Funds for the ongoing research mentioned in this Invited Commentary were received from the School of Health Professions, University of Missouri.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: The research project mentioned in this Invited Commentary was approved on November 16, 2015, by the Institutional Review Board, University of Missouri-Columbia (IRB project number 2003030).

Correspondence should be addressed to Lise Saffran, 805 Lewis Hall, Columbia, MO 65201; telephone: (573) 884-6835; e-mail:

© 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges