Narrative medicine

Narrative medicine is a medical approach that utilizes people's narratives in clinical practice, research, and education as a way to promote healing. It aims to address the relational and psychological dimensions that occur in tandem with physical illness, with an attempt to deal with the individual stories of patients.[1] In doing this, narrative medicine aims not only to validate the experience of the patient, but also to encourage creativity and self-reflection in the physician.

Two first year medical students at Lewis Katz School of Medicine writing/journaling about their experiences in the hospital.


In 1910, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching created the Flexner Report, which set out to redefine medical educational practices. In this report, it argued that the proper goal of medicine is "to attempt to fight the battle against disease." Flexner wrote that "the practitioner deals with facts of two categories. Chemistry, physics, biology enable him to apprehend one set; he needs a different apperceptive and appreciative apparatus to deal with the other more subtle elements. Specific preparation is in this direction much more difficult; one must rely for the requisite insight and sympathy on a varied and enlarging cultural experience."[2] In the late 20th century the emergence of narrative medicine came as an effort to re-emphasize an aspect of wider cultural elements in medicine.

From the 1990s, physicians like Rachel Naomi Remen[3] and Rita Charon argued that medical practice should be structured around the narratives of patients.[4]

Educational programsEdit

A number of schools in the United States offer advanced classes in narrative medicine.

  • Columbia University has developed educational programs for the field of narrative medicine.
    • Interprofessional Education: The Division of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center collaborates with all the clinical programs at the medical center, in addition to leading the "Interprofessional Education" programming.
    • Rounds and Workshops: In addition, the division hosts numerous events and trainings, including "monthly rounds and weekend intensive workshops" for the public.
    • Master of Science: Columbia University created the "Master of Science in Narrative Medicine" program in 2009, making it the first graduate program devoted strictly to narrative medicine.
    • Textbook: In 2016, the first textbook in narrative medicine was published: "The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine".
    • Certification Program: In 2017, an asynchronous online "Certification program in Narrative Medicine" began.
  • The Lewis Katz School of Medicine has a Narrative Medicine Program run by Mike Vitez, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, and Naomi Rosenberg, an Emergency Medicine physician. It launched in 2016. The program's goal is to protect, support, and nourish the humanism that brings physicians into the profession, and to teach the skills of narrative that help at the bedside and beyond. The program has curricular and extracurricular components. Reflective writing forms a significant component of the Professional Identity Formation thread in the MD curriculum. Electives in medical humanities range from exploration of narrative medicine to photo storytelling to improvisational acting. Students also conceive and complete individual or group projects for elective credit under the guidance of the faculty. Extracurricular activities include a wide array of writing and narrative medicine workshops—some led by students—for students, residents, and hospital staff. "Narrative Medicine Talks" is a regular speaker series, and the program hosts fall and spring Story Slams for the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and Temple Hospital Community. On December 7, 2019, LKSOM hosted its inaugural Narrative Medicine Conference.
  • Montefiore Medical Center is the academic medical center and University Hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine. This medical center created a program in Narrative Medicine as a subset of the Department of Family and Social Medicine. Residents at this school attend programs where they learn how to use personal narrative to enhance empathy, as well as topics including stress, loss, and balance.
  • The Ohio State University Humanities Institute is also supporting the multidisciplinary initiative of narrative medicine. This program runs concurrently with their other undergraduate and graduate programs, where students "strive to develop narrative competence that enables them to deliver care that is not only more empathetic and compassionate, but also more effective."
  • The University of California Irvine College of Medicine has created an Integrative Medicine Program within the Department of Family Medicine.[5]
  • In 2011, Western University created the Narrative Medicine Initiative (NMI) and has incorporated narrative medicine into the undergraduate, postgraduate, and continuing medical education departments. They work to answer questions such as "How does the art of storytelling improve health care education and the experience of patient care?". Western holds regular (at least annual) Narrative medicine rounds where local patients and physicians share their stories of disease and illness, with a focus on how the stories will improve physician's ability to handle future stories.[6]
  • Lenoir-Rhyne University has established the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative, with the slogan "Heeding the call for narrative in a fragmented world." This program offers graduate-level and certification courses in several narrative training disciplines, one of which is narrative medicine.
  • Saybrook University takes a broad approach to narrative medicine through their mind-body medicine program. This seeks to approve the mind-body approach to health and wellness as a way to improve quality of life for patients.
  • Misericordia University requires a course in narrative medicine for all students in their Medical and Health Humanities major.[7]

This growing field of narrative medicine extends beyond the United States:

  • The British Medical Journal began adding their own writing seminars to promote this type of narrative in its emerging physicians.
  • At University of Southern Denmark narrative medicine is a mandatory course to follow for all undergraduate medical students.[8]
  • In Italy the Healthcare Area of ISTUD held a Master in Applied Narrative Medicine addressed to Health Care Professional "Narrative Medicine".

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Narrative Medicine | NYU School of Law". Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  2. ^ Flexner (1910). "Medical Education in the United States and Canada". Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  3. ^ "Rachel Naomi Remen — the Difference Between Fixing and Healing".
  4. ^ Charon R (2001-10-17). "Narrative medicine: A model for empathy, reflection, profession, and trust". JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 286 (15): 1897–1902. doi:10.1001/jama.286.15.1897. ISSN 0098-7484. PMID 11597295.
  5. ^ "Integrative Medicine Program | Department of Family Medicine | University of California, Irvine". Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  6. ^ "Stories of Illness and Health - Public Humanities at Western - Western University". Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  7. ^ "Medical and Health Humanities at Misericordia University". Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  8. ^ "Narrative Medicine". SDU. Retrieved 2020-05-11.

Further readingEdit

  • Charon, Rita (2008). Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness, Oxford University Press.
  • Charon, Rita et al. (2016). The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine, Oxford University Press.
  • Greenhalgh, Trisha; editor (1998). Narrative Based Medicine, BMJ books.
  • Hunter, Kathryn Montgomery (1991). Doctors' Stories: The Narrative Structure of Medical Knowledge, Princeton University Press.
  • Launer, John (2018). Narrative-Based Practice in Health and Social Care: Conversations Inviting Change, 2nd Edition, Routledge.
  • Marini, Maria Giulia (2016). Narrative Medicine: Bridging the Gap between Evidence-Based Care and Medical Humanities, Springer.
  • Marini, Maria Giulia (2019). Languages of Care in Narrative Medicine: Words, Space and Time in the Healthcare Ecosystem, Springer.
  • Mehl-Madrona, Lewis (2007). Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process, Bear & Company.
  • Mehl-Madrona, Lewis (2010). Healing the Mind through the Power of Story: The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry, Bear & Company.
  • Robertson, Colin; editor (2016). Storytelling in Medicine, Routledge.

External linksEdit