March 01, 2021

Pamplin Society of Fellows Blog

Narrative Medicine Scribe training

  • Narrative Medicine
  • Rita Charon
    Erica Lansner 2009
  • Storytellling in Medicine

Over the February break, as part of the new Health Studies minor launched this semester, all students currently enrolled in a Health Studies course were invited to attend a two-day Narrative Medicine Scribe training course.

The training, titled Signal & Noise: Scribing in the Margins, was organized by the LC Center for Community and Global Health in conjunction with Northwest Narrative Medicine (NWNM) Collaborative, a regional organization focused on bringing together patients, providers, artists, and scholars to build a community of narrative medicine.

So, what is narrative medicine? Good question. On their website, NWNM Collaborative offers a definition: “Narrative Medicine is a practice in which we recognize, absorb, metabolize, and allow ourselves to be moved by stories of illness and health.”

As I’ve begun studying the practice of narrative medicine, both through this training course and through the Narrative Medicine Practicum led by LC professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies Daena Goldsmith, I’ve developed my own ideas on what narrative medicine means to me. I see it as the practice of healing a person, rather than the stepwise process of questioning, identifying, and treating an illness.

Throughout the training over February break, students, faculty, and community members alike shared vulnerable stories, discussed current issues in the United States healthcare system, and above all practiced the art of listening. Guest speakers from the healthcare community came and discussed their experiences as healthcare professionals, explaining how they implement narrative medicine into their practices. We analyzed and wrote poetry, transcribed videos of COVID-19 patients talking about their experiences with a life-threatening illness, and shared with one another our own experiences with the US healthcare system.

Coming into the training, I felt dubious as to how effective a training which relies on openness and conversation could be given its conditions: it was entirely virtual (about six hours per day on Zoom) and was held over one of our two “mini-breaks” (which replaced our Spring Break this semester due to travel restrictions from the pandemic). However, when I logged off for the final time on Friday evening, I felt a strange mix of emotions; gratitude for the many people who worked to put on such a well-rounded training, excitement about continuing to pursue a career in medicine, and a tinge of sadness as it began to sink in that this ever-important dialog had, for now, drawn to an end.

For anyone interested in learning more about narrative medicine and how to get involved in the narrative medicine community, a multitude of resources is available. The NWNM Collaborative (linked above) is a welcoming and safe community for all. To learn more about the evolution and practice of narrative medicine, Rita Charon, the unofficial founder of narrative medicine, has written, spoken, and published many resources regarding the practice. And as always, Google is your best friend when it comes to quick, easy-to-digest information on anything, narrative medicine included.

Soren Gotschall (he/him) ’22