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Some thoughts for young surgeons

What is Narrative Medicine?

In 2019, I went back to graduate school for the third time since attaining my MD degree. I began work on a graduate certificate in Narrative Healthcare, and have continued in the Lenoir-Rhyne MFA program. Narrative Healthcare is a more clinician-inclusive name for Narrative Medicine.


So, as many people have asked me, "What is Narrative Medicine?"


I think of Narrative Medicine in two ways. First of all, if you think of the Medical Humanities as complementary to Scientific Medicine, then Narrative Medicine is that subset of the Medical Humanities that deals with the written word. Our medical school has a Humanities Distinction Track, and over the years most students who complete that track have produced written-word creations. A few have done visual arts or interpretive dance. I suspect that, as physicians, we have spent so much time reading and writing that this particular mode of expression comes most naturally to us.


Narrative Medicine is more than that, however. It encompasses a variety of techniques that can be used to build empathy, combat burnout, and build listening skills. It is being widely disseminated through US medical schools. I am particularly interested in extending this into the residency environment. For this, I felt that I needed additional training. 


There are two graduate level programs in Narrative Medicine. One is based at Columbia, in New York City, where the discipline originated. The second one is in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Thomas Wolfe Center for Creative Writing at Lenoir-Rhyne University. I enrolled in the Lenoir-Rhyne program because it uses distance learning, and it fits my schedule. Classes are mostly in the evenings, and are held via Zoom. It's an immersive environment, with a small group of students and a charismatic knowledgable instructor.


I just completed my first semester and am into the summer term. In addition to providing the formal knowledge base that I need in Narrative Medicine, the coursework is also improving my creative writing. Currently, I'm working on a third short story collection. After that, probably a memoir of my personal experience with breast cancer. 


It's invigorating to be back in school! If you are considering devoting your career to surgical education, in addition to obtaining a degree in medical education you might want to consider a certificate-level program in Narrative Medicine such as the one at Lenoir-Rhyne. I'm here to tell you that it is both do-able and potentially highly valuable.

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