“Narrative Medicine Teaches Doctors How to Listen to Patients’ Stories”, Eve Glasberg, Columbia University News, June 5, 2023

Eve Glasberg is the Director of Arts and Culture Communications at Columbia University, NY, NY. In a recent article for the Columbia University News, she writes about the growing field of “narrative medicine”, a discipline which is at the intersection of humanities, the arts, clinical practice, and health care justice, and aims to improve clinician-patient relationships by training clinicians in reflective practice.

Glasberg describes the “narrative medicine” program inaugurated by the Columbia Medical School in 2018, as part of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics. The department is led by Rita Charon, a general internist and professor of medicine, who gave up her clinical practice in 2018 when she became chair. The term “narrative medicine” was coined by Charon in herself in her 2001 seminal work “Narrative Medicine” (see also our recent article about her at this link).

The course program

Charon’s program ensures that medical students receive comprehensive training in patient-physician relationships, communication and active listening skills, ethics, and clinical practice. The “Parallel Chart”, a writing exercise pioneered by Charon, encourages medical students to write down their personal experiences and emotions in response to patient care. This practice is aimed at fostering self-awareness and strengthening students’ capacity to empathise with patients.

Columbia’s narrative medicine program has gained recognition both nationally and internationally. It has influenced the growing field of narrative medicine and has become a beacon of innovative medical education. By merging the realms of medicine and storytelling, this program transforms the way healthcare is practiced and teaches clinicians to view patients as whole individuals with unique narratives.

The challenges

Glasberg says that Charon realises the challenges of her approach to patient care “in today’s health-care world of 15-minute medical appointments and increasing corporatization”. Yet, Charon maintains that listening to a patient’s entire story as opposed to just listing various symptoms is possible, and vastly preferable. “My practice isn’t going to make huge changes,” Glasberg quotes Charon as saying, “but a movement is growing because the current state of medicine is alarming. We train our students in activism and advocacy.”

How the students see the program

We found this student testimony of particular interest. “Our narrative medicine courses give us the space to step back from the intense curriculum and reflect,” Jessica Cho, a first-year medical student at Columbia is quoted in the article as saying. “Narrative medicine reminds us that there is a story behind everything, and that what we see as doctors in a moment in time is a snapshot.”

Read the full text of the article at this link on the Columbia University website

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