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Arts & Life

Jerome Freeman, MD, and his literary legacy in South Dakota medicine

Chris Laughery
Jerome Freeman

This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

Dr. Jerome Freeman is a soft-spoken neurologist who believes every patient has a story. Early in his career, Freeman linked his work in medicine with his habits as a writer. He journals. He writes poetry. He writes essays. He teaches.

Freeman used personal writing to endure arduous weekends of on-call work. He scribbled words or notes on a folded copy of the current call schedule and later crafted those notes into poetry. In the medical school ecosystem, curriculum time is hard-won, and yet Freeman has found ways throughout his career to include unexpected concepts in teaching future doctors: Kindness. Poetry. Humility.

Kindness matters, Freeman says, especially during the time of COVID when healthcare workers are stressed and yet also working in environments infused with meaning and purpose. Doctors and nurses often treat people who decline vaccinations or people with lifetime histories of smoking or overeating. Those patients deserve the full dignity, empathy, and respect of quality healthcare, Freeman says.

This month, SDPB's Spotlight illuminates the region's literary history. Throughout September, we consider literary luminaries like Dr. Freeman and their influence in unexpected places — like the exam room.

Jerome Freeman's latest collection is called "What I Finally Know: Poems of Dakota Memories and Medicine," illustrated by artist Carl Grupp.

"Kindness is the central focus of our medical school's strategic plan."
Jerome Freeman, MD, neurologist, poet, professor, and chair for neurosciences at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine