Narrative medicine is a field of study and clinical approach that focuses on the intersection of story and health, and honors the stories of illness through attention to relationality, narrative construction, and social forces at play when one gives an account of self. Through training in close reading and reflective writing, clinicians may become more attuned to the nuances within a patient’s telling, and gain tools to re-imagine their role in giving care. Narrative medicine seeks to infuse the clinical encounter with humanity, humility, and radical listening, and on a broader level, recognize the power of narrative and its ability to transform healthcare.
In February of 2019, I graduated from Columbia University’s Masters in Narrative Medicine program. The degree is thoroughly interdisciplinary, with areas of study including literature and memoir, creative writing, philosophy, social justice, and qualitative research. All students complete a six-week practicum in which we design a workshop series and meet once a week with a group of providers to discuss a text (prose, poetry, visual, or audio) and do impromptu writing. I worked with specialists and teachers in the Child Life program at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, and brought in materials for analysis including Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Are You My Mother?, Johnny Cash’s music video for the song “Hurt”, and Claudia Rankine’s poem “Making Room”.
While many program graduates head off to clinical training, those with humanities backgrounds have taken different routes, such as working with organizations that prioritize compassionate care, or conducting narrative workshops in hospitals. I plan to pair the tenets of narrative medicine with my writing, strategy, and journalistic background in order to further digital initiatives synthesizing story and health. My hope is to develop products and resources that change the landscape of care while acknowledging the range and complexity of human experience.