Narrative medicine: a medicine infused with respect for the narrative dimensions of illness and caregiving, Rita Charon

Rita Charon, MD, PhD, is widely recognised as the originator of the field of “Narrative Medicine”. “The effective practice of medicine requires narrative competence, that is, the ability to acknowledge, absorb, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others,” Charon wrote in a 2001 article titled “Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on October 17, 2001. This approach emphasizes the importance of patient-centered care and recognizes the power of stories in shaping healthcare experiences.

In her essay Charon notes that while advances in medicine have been remarkable in terms of diagnosing and treating illnesses, there is a crucial aspect that sometimes gets overlooked: the need for physicians who possess not only scientific competence but also the ability to connect with patients on a deeper level. Sick individuals require more than just medical expertise, she says, they seek physicians who can comprehend the complexities of their conditions, address their medical challenges, and provide genuine support throughout their journey.

How can physicians embrace this new approach?

Charon suggests that this can be achieved through “systematic and rigorous training in narrative skills as close reading, reflective writing, and authentic discourse with patients, physicians and medical students can improve their care of individual patients, commitment to their own health and fulfillment, care of their colleagues, and continued fidelity to medicine’s ideals”.

By bridging the divides that separate the physician from the patient, the self, colleagues, and society, she concludes, narrative medicine can help physicians offer accurate, engaged, authentic, and effective care of the sick.


Charon R. Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust. JAMA. 2001;286(15):1897–1902. doi:10.1001/jama.286.15.1897

Full article at this link on the JAMA website

See also

“Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness”, Rita Charon, Oxford University Press, at this link

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