By focusing on patients’ stories, Narrative Medicine masters program helps health workers enhance healing | Keck School of Medication of USC – University of Southern California

Program is second of its kind in the country

By  Mollie Barnes

An Asian woman with cancer is consulting her doctor. The two women are seated at a table together. The patient is wearing a bandana to hide her hair loss. The medical professional is showing the patient test results on a digital tablet. They are discussing a treatment plan.

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Rate your pain from 1 to 10.

Most people who have been to the doctor have probably been asked to do this. But, narrative medicine argues that maybe this momentary question misses the point if it doesn’t include a background story.

“For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the particular significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence, ” said Atul Gawande in his book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

This is the problem story medicine hopes to solve. Simply by focusing on patient’s stories, medical professionals can bear witness, absorb, make sense of, and act upon the tales and the traumas of others in order to enhance healing.

“A doctor may need to walk with a patient, plus or his or her family, through suffering and ultimately death, ” said Kathy Riley, a current student in the Narrative Medicine masters program at the Keck School associated with Medicine of the University of Southern California. “I think that our work in narrative medicine helps equip doctors, nurses and social workers in those difficult journeys that they have to take alongside their patients and their families. ”

The Narrative Medication program in USC welcomed its first 6 students in the particular fall associated with 2020. Students take classes in literary studies, creative writing, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and qualitative research via a medical lens. College students in the program include working professionals like Riley, who works for a pediatric brain tumor foundation. It also includes medical college students, and other graduates through various fields such as anthropology.

“These skills have already helped me in my work with families whose children are going through or have gone through treatment for a pediatric brain growth, ” Riley said. “I’ve been able to conduct narrative medication workshops along with those families to help them put words and meaning to their painful experiences. These discussions give them a way to talk indirectly about the particular struggles that they’ve already been through by talking about a poem or a work of art. ”

The particular program includes a teaching component, allowing learners to learn how to put on workshops in narrative medicine practices for people interested in acquiring some of the abilities from this relatively new field. The program from USC is the 2nd in the country, in addition to Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine program. The first year from the USC program was online due to pandemic safety protocols, but this year began in person courses with a new cohort.

And what students learn within this program is more than just bedside manner, which they understand in the particular regular healthcare program, stated Pamela Schaff, MD plus director with regard to the system at USC.

“If our students may learn what to do with stories, for instance through skills of close reading inside a literature classroom, exactly where students analyze details in a text, we believe that will translates into improved clinical care for individuals, ” she said. “It adds another dimension. ”

Students take courses in intersubjectivity, which is the relation or intersection between people’s cognitive perspectives, and can choose electives in story ethics, immigrant illness narratives, and wellness justice.

“The courses engage with theories of bearing witness, trauma studies, and philosophical foundations of intersubjectivity, ” Schaff said. “How does one person really understand or gain access to the lived experience of another? We’re all existentially separate human being beings, yet we nevertheless continue in order to try to bridge that divide and realize and act on the tales that we receive from others. That’s the work that people believe is essential to effective health treatment. ”

Schaff and Erika Wright, the particular Narrative Medication program associate director, proposed the master’s program to help address disparities in health care. Schaff has a PhD in innovative writing plus literature, which usually she earned at the USC Dornsife College associated with Letters, Arts and Sciences, along with the girl MD.   After hearing narrative medicine’s founder, Rita Charon, speak at a conference about the new field, she was inspired to bring the similar plan to USC.

“When the field was founded, it was really to address some of the issues that I think that sufferers and physicians alike are continuing in order to experience, ” Schaff mentioned. “You can have all associated with the scientific knowledge in the world, but if you can’t understand the tale or be a good reader or interpreter of a story, you can’t really take care of patients the way I think individuals want to be taken care of. ”

Jennifer Li graduated from the narrative masters program in spring 2021, inside between her second and third year of medical school. In addition to helping improve healing regarding patients, the girl said the program also helps doctors to be capable to better reflect upon their experiences.

“It sort of protects against burnout, because you’re seeing sufferers as individuals and not just diagnoses to be treated, ” she said. “I think that makes clinical practice so much more rewarding. ” 

While doctors generally have the limited amount of time with a patient, Schaff stated narrative medicine practices don’t waste time, they can actually save it. Narrative healthcare practices associated with close reading, observing, plus listening can help health experts hear stories more effectively from the start.    

“If all of us can learn to see the particular beauty, the pain, as well as the ambiguities of great literature or works of art as we closely examine them and reflect on them, then we just might be able to stop plus notice that our patients are functions of artwork, too, and deserving of our own best attention, ” Riley said.

For more information about the particular Keck School of Medicine narrative medication masters system visit

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