Read about some our narrative medicine courses at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.
Narrative Medicine Required Seminars for First Year Medical Students
Narrative Medicine is medicine practiced with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, interpret, and honor the stories of illness. This competence lets doctors imagine and enter patients’ worlds, represent complex events or situations so as to understand them, and reflect on their own experiences in caring for the sick. The Narrative Medicine Seminars in FCM II offer graduate-level training in multiple aspects of narrative competence.
All first-year medical students at Columbia are required to complete an intensive ½ semester seminar in humanities. Each year, the medical students select among the 12-14 concurrent humanities seminars offered. Typically, the catalogue includes seminars in literary studies, narrative writing, history of medicine, ethics, visual arts, religious studies, and alternative medicine. Courses offered in Spring 2017:
1. Poetry: Close Readings and Craft | Owen Lewis, M.D.
Loss, love, illness, and healing—contemporary poetry gives us a remarkable range of expression. Reading Hirsch or Tretheway, Hayes, Diaz or Kasischke, powerful voices move us. How do they do it? How can we make our own writing more compelling? Close reading is essential for good writing, so we will begin each session with a detailed examination of several poems, drawn mostly from contemporary writing. Readings will be grouped by, but not limited, to medical specialties (i.e. medicine, surgery, ob/gyn, psychiatry) to give us multiple models of writing about illness and healing. The essential questions we will be asking: how the author’s voice is represented on the page and what techniques are used to shape the reader’s experience. Elements of contemporary poetic craft will be highlighted: line length, line break and enjambment, compression, pacing, the lyric and the narrative, levels of diction, stanzaic organizations, and the use of metaphor. There will be some in-class writing and students’ work will be workshopped. Strategies of revision will be discussed—is the process one of “correcting” the poem, or one of “re-envisioning?”
Owen Lewis is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He is the recipient of the 2016 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine (U.K.) and the 2016 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize from the New England Poetry Club (for Best Man.) He is also the author of the recently published Marriage Map, Sometimes Full of Daylight, and March in San Miguel.
2. The City of the Hospital: The Medical Student as Writer | David Hellerstein, M.D.
The purpose of this class is to develop skills in writing about experiences of becoming a doctor. William Carlos Williams, in his Autobiography, wrote of the “city of the hospital.” In the course of his/her training, the medical student has unique opportunities to explore this miraculous city—from the medical school lecture hall to the scientific laboratory to the wards and clinics of the hospital itself. These experiences provide a unique opportunity to observe the city of modern medicine in all its triumphs, complexities, and contradictions. The goal of this workshop will be to help students develop skills to write about their training experiences, and to mold their observations into finished essays. The primary focus will be on ‘creative nonfiction’ writing approaches. There will be a variety of readings of works by doctor-writers and other writers, in-class exercises, and assignments. Participants will be encouraged to keep a journal of their medical school experiences. Outside of class assignment time will amount to around 2-3 hours per week. Previous writing experience not required.
Dr. David Hellerstein is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia, a research psychiatrist at the NY State Psychiatric Institute, where he is director of the Depression Evaluation Service, and a practicing clinician. Hellerstein is author of books including Battles of Life and Death (essays), A Family of Doctors (memoir), and Heal Your Brain (nonfiction). His writing has appeared in the NY Times, Harper’s, Esquire, North American Review, and The Huffington Post, and has been awarded the Pushcart Prize best essay award.
3. The Philosophy of Death | Craig Irvine, PhD
In a sense, all philosophy is a meditation on death. One cannot ask the fundamental questions—What is the meaning of Being (ontology)? How ought we to live (ethics)? How do we know the True (epistemology)? What is the nature of Beauty (aesthetics)?—without confronting one’s mortality. Indeed, to face death is the beginning of wisdom.
Of course, facing death, eyes wide open, is not an easy task. In this class, we will be guided by works of philosophy and literature that bring us face-to-face with death, from Plato to Tolstoy to Camus and beyond.
Craig Irvine is a founder and Academic Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine and Director of the Masters Program in Narrative Medicine. He holds his PhD in Philosophy. For more than 15 years he has been designing and teaching cultural competency, ethics, Narrative Medicine, and Humanities and Medicine curricula for health professionals. He has over 20 years of experience researching the history of philosophy, phenomenology, and narrative ethics.
4. Movement as Story: an Exploration of Dance and the Spectrum of Physical Narrative | David Leventhal
Watch this short video to see the program in action:
Narratives are formed explicitly and implicitly as the body moves through space and time. In this four-session studio-based course, students come to learn to observe, interpret and create movement vocabulary as dance artists. These sessions are participatory in nature and will help students practice observing the world as dancers and choreographers do, while learning how to relate this artistic skill building to general medical practice. No prior dance experience is required for this course.
To supplement their individual experience and explore the concepts of dance practice in a patient population, students will also engage in a case study of the internationally-acclaimed Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) program in which people with Parkinson’s are empowered to explore movement and music in ways that are refreshing, enjoyable, stimulating and creative. By participating in a live Dance for PD class, students will see how the elements of movement vocabulary and exploration serve and benefit dancers at all levels of the physical spectrum, and provide a sense of self-efficacy, skill and well-being to people living with Parkinson’s.
David Leventhal has performed with the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) from 1997-2011, appearing in principal roles in some of Mark Morris’ most acclaimed works. He received a Bessie (New York Dance and Performance Award) for his performing career with Mark Morris. David is Program Director and one of the founding teachers of MMDG’s Dance for PD® program, a collaboration with the Brooklyn Parkinson Group that offers weekly classes for people with Parkinson’s at the Mark Morris Dance Center and fosters similar classes in more than 100 communities in 17 countries around the world, and presents regular training workshops for teachers interested in leading Dance for PD® classes. He received the 2016 World Parkinson Congress Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Parkinson’s community and is the co-recipient of the Alan Bonander Humanitarian Award for his efforts to make the Dance for PD® program widely available. He has written and lectured extensively about the program. David has co-produced three volumes of a successful At Home DVD series for the program and has been instrumental in initiating and designing innovative projects involving live streaming and Moving Through Glass, a dance-based Google Glass App for people with Parkinson’s.
He serves on the boards of the Davis Phinney Foundation and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Arts and Humanities Program.
5. The Art of Paying Attention | Carrie McGee
Modern and contemporary works of art demand attention; they reward by encouraging examination of the parameters (and boundaries) of sight, analysis and even the definition of art itself. How do we understand such works? What do they tell us about our own mechanisms of seeing/listening/understanding? In this course we will pay attention to works of art in MoMA’s collection and to each other. In doing so we will investigate what it means to “see” an image or object, and explore the benefits of multiple modes of engagement and observation. Through close looking and group discussion, students will enhance their observation, critical thinking and communication skills. Students will be required to actively participate in group discussions and activities. No prior knowledge of art is necessary.
Carrie McGee is the Assistant Director for Community and Access Programs at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). She is responsible for developing programming for visitors with disabilities and in collaboration with community-based organizations. She also teaches gallery programs. In 2009, Carrie coauthored Meet Me: Making Art Accessible to People with Dementia.
6. Why Works of Art Matter | Rika Burnham
In Why Works of Art Matter, we propose that the relationship between art and medicine is rich and multifaceted. Students engage in dialogues about masterpieces of The Frick Collection, opening up a complex array of subtexts and interpretive possibilities. Discussing one masterpiece at a time, participants develop appreciation for works of art and contemplate how we understand them. As a class we think broadly and deeply about experiences with works of art, why they matter, and their relevance within the study and practice of medicine.
Rika Burnham is Head of Education at The Frick Collection and project director for Teaching Institute for Museum Educators/TIME. This past semester she taught The Literature of Art in the Program of Narrative Medicine, Columbia University. Previously, she was a museum educator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Publications include Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience (Getty) and a catalogue essay in Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors (Metropolitan Museum). Ms. Burnham earned a degree in art history from Harvard University and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2014.
7. Observation and Uncertainty in Art and Medicine: A Combined Course for Columbia and Weill Cornell Medical Students
| Anna Willieme, MFA
This six-session course will focus on observational skills and the practice of medicine via engagement with art in the museum setting. Through a variety of student-centered exercises, students will have the opportunity to enhance their observational skills and reflect in particular on issues concerning the management of uncertainty, biases, and ambiguity. The majority of time will be spent in the galleries actively exploring these issues through discussion, writing and sketching. No formal art experience is necessary.
Anna Willieme, MFA, is an art lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a visual artist with exhibition experience in galleries and public spaces in both the US and Europe. Willieme is on the seminar faculty of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and is also the founder and director of ArtMed inSight. ArtMed inSight offers workshops for physicians and healthcare practitioners using art to enhance perceptual and communication skills and leads programs at a number of institutions in Boston and New York.
Participation limited to 6 students from Columbia and 6 students from Cornell.
8. Comic-book Storytelling Workshop | Ben Schwartz, M.D.
This workshop will give students the opportunity to explore the often-overlooked medium of comics and develop valuable storytelling skills. Students will learn how comics express narratives that neither prose nor pictures could convey alone. They will discover that they can translate many of these techniques to the floors and wards, where complex stories are often told with more than just words.
Selected readings and in-class exercises will focus on comic storytelling fundamentals such as clarity, pacing, and mood. Basic instruction on figure drawing, perspective and abstraction/caricature will also be offered, but no previous visual arts experience will be necessary for the course. Students will be given time during class to complete a final project: a short comic book on the topic of their choosing.
Benjamin Schwartz is a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine and an Assistant Professor of Medicine (in Surgery) at Columbia University Medical Center, working with both the Departments of Surgery and Medicine on educational material geared towards patients, students and teachers. He received his B.A. and M.D. from Columbia University.
Please bring pencils and something to draw on (a pad or blank typing paper is fine–doesn’t have to be fancy).
9. Qualitative Research Methods | Edgar Rivera Colón, PhD
More and more P&S students are seeking to learn about lived experiences of illness and health care through qualitative research using in-depth interviews, focus groups, and life histories with persons. Certainly, many of the students doing Scholarly Projects in the Narrative & Social Medicine track are proposing such projects. Their proposals range from wanting to interview sugar-cane harvesters in the Dominican Republic about their health care needs to learning about the lives of very ill children living with cystic fibrosis or recovering from severe burns. All such projects require disciplined and rigorous training in qualitative research methods. Conducting an in-depth interview, performing ethnographic field work, moderating a focus group, and then knowing what to do with the transcribed conversations require the kind of training that anthropologists or sociologists receive. Because of the importance of asking the kinds of health-related questions that can only be answered with qualitative means, Narrative Medicine has arranged to offer an intensive seminar in qualitative research methods, tailored for our setting. The qualitative methods of the social sciences (e.g., anthropology, sociology) emerged from a long process of refining and systematizing elements of ordinary conversational and interactional dynamics of social life in dyadic and group forms. Over the twentieth-century, in cross-disciplinary dialogue with quantitative researchers, social scientists formulated scientifically reliable and valid methods of creating interview protocols, implementing those protocols in the field, accurately recording conversational and observational data, and data analysis techniques that afford translations of qualitative research into peer-reviewed scholarly journals, public policy, clinical, and community activism venues. As social worlds in the US and throughout the world have become mediated by relentlessly globalizing cultures and economies as well as new digital forms of sociality, the search for not just the quantitative description this reality, but the social meanings of contemporary lived experience have made the need for qualitative research data and training ever more urgent for practitioners of medicine and allied health fields. This seminar will respond to the need for rigorous qualitative research methods training for medical students interested in conducting research where the intersubjective and collective meanings of illness and health practice are essential to advances in clinical outcomes and public health. Students will define their research area (i.e., domains) and research questions, formulate interview protocols, implement them in the field by conducting interviews, learn how to record their data, analyze the data they produce using coding, and present that research in narrative form that is in conversation with the relevant literatures in the social sciences and medical humanities. The seminar will prepare students for the next steps in their lives as qualitative researchers and medical clinicians.
Dr. Rivera Colón is a Lecturer in the Program of Narrative Medicine. He is a medical anthropologist who trains frontline African American and Latino/a HIV/AIDS activists in the use of ethnographic research methods in developing community-level interventions. For the last 15 years he has been conducting ethnographic research on New York City’s House Ball community. He is an expert on Latino gay and bisexual male sexual cultures and HIV and regularly trains public health professionals in cultural competency in working with Latino/a LGBTQ communities. Recently, Dr. Rivera Colón published “Between the Runway & the Empty Tomb: Bodily Transformation and Christian Praxis in New York City’s House Ball Community” in an edited volume by Dr. Samuel Cruz entitled Christianity and Culture in the City: A Postcolonial Approach. He is now working on a co-edited volume entitled Queer Latino/a Theologies and the Churches.
10. Photography and Visual Storytelling | Gail Albert Halaban, MFA
How do we begin to look at something unfamiliar? When we approach a picture, what questions do we ask? In this class students will use photography to explore the world. Students will master the elements of art and the principles of design that lay the foundation for building story and meaning with pictures. Students will develop skills to become more aware of how they see and photograph. The class will examine photography’s dual claims to be objective documentation and personal expression. What is the role of the author in making a photograph? Through gallery visits and photographic assignments, participants will learn to use photography as a tool for engagement, allowing them to build new connections with the world while making art. All levels of photographic skills are welcome. Workload will include weekly photographic assignments culminating in a final portfolio.
Gail Albert Halaban holds an MFA from Yale University and is represented by the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York as well as galleries in Paris, Los Angeles, Istanbul and Atlanta. She has photographed for many international publications including the New Yorker and the New York Times and has published two monographs: Out My Window, and Vis-à-Vis.
11. Reporting Live from NYP: Journalistic Writing for Doctors | Cecilia Fix, M.D. and Marjorie Korn
Every day, major discussions about medicine ripple through doctors’ offices, newspapers, government policy shops and American homes. STIs are on the rise, states are grappling with expanded legalization of marijuana, medicine is being politicized in the halls of Congress, narcotics abuse is an epidemic and we still have a citizenry that’s underinsured for health care. This year especially, there’s no shortage of misinformation from people with dubious credentials. This workshop teaches doctors-in-training to simultaneously think like journalists. We will talk about modes of communication in the 21st century, how to craft a story, methods of publishing and the unique vantage point medical students and doctors have on issues critical to everyone. Assignments will include readings, online videos and approximately four written pieces (three stories and a pitch) which will equate to about two hours of work per week. You will leave with a story that is ready to pitch and publish. Previous writing experience not required.
Cecilia Fix, M.D., is in her third year of internal medicine residency at Columbia University Medical Center. She received her BA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and is an alumna of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is the co-founder of Writers in Residency, a journalism course for doctors-in-training. She plans to pursue a career in general medicine with a focus on medical education.
Marjorie Korn is an investigative award-winning journalist who has written for the AP, Dallas Morning News, Times of London, GQ, Cosmopolitan and more. She is the co-founder of Writers in Residency and earned a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
12. Life Stories of Anatomic Donors: An Obituary Writing Workshop | Dr. Jessica Tanenbaum and Aubrie-Ann Jones
This course is for students craving to interview real people in the setting of real stakes. In this seminar, students are guided through the process of researching and writing a newspaper-style obituary of a recent donor to Columbia’s anatomy lab. Through interviewing the anatomy donor’s friends and family, students will develop practical communication and interpretation skills that are crucial to effective doctoring. Class time is devoted to close readings of example obituaries, discussion of ethical issues, and workshop-style analysis of other students’ writing. The course grew out of Dr. Tanenbaum’s scholarly project when she was a P&S medical student.
Jessica Tanenbaum is a physician completing her residency in Internal Medicine at NYU. She has a BA from Yale University and an MD from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Prior to medical school, she studied the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University and briefly worked as a Boston Globe obituarist.
Aubrie-Ann Jones is a graduate of Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine Master’s program. She has taught at Rutgers University in the Doctorate in Social Work program, and is currently leading Narrative Medicine workshops with residents and fellows at NYU Langone Medical Center. She is an editor at The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine and a volunteer in Bellevue Hospital Center’s Emergency Department. Aubrie also holds a BA in Anthropology from Fordham University and an MFA in Fiction from The New School.
13. Film | Maura Spiegel, PhD
“We do not know what we see, but rather the opposite is true: we see what we know.” Yvette Biro
Objectives for this course include adding film-viewing to your strategies for increasing reflective practice, observational skills and structural competence. Through discussion and short reflective writing we will develop greater awareness of how movies work on us, the density and idiosyncrasy of our responses, which can prove relevant to responses in clinical encounters. Close reading of narrative films will engage us in themes such as the toxic body, organ trafficking and globalization,“sexuation,” the loneliness of the dying, the “plot of suffering,” panic and consolation. Attention will be given to fundamentals of cinematic form. Films will be selected from among the work of Barry Jenkins, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Pedro Almodovar, Mike Mills, Tamara Jenkins, Lasse Halstrom, Terrence Malick, and Todd Haynes.
Maura Spiegel teaches fiction and film in the Department of English at Columbia University and was recently editor-in-chief of the journal Literature and Medicine. She is co-author of The Grim Reader: Writings on Death, Dying and Living On. Her scholarly interests include study of the affective and cognitive dimensions of the film-viewing experience. She is a member of the Core Faculty of the Program in Narrative Medicine.
14, Making Meaning: Using Emotion to Foster Relationships Essential to the Practice of Medicine | Jane Bogart, EdD, MCHES
Personal relationships are an inextricable aspect of practicing medicine, and many physicians cite relationships with patients and colleagues as what makes their work meaningful. These relationships are both based on and enriched by our ability to perceive, understand, and manage emotions and to use emotions to facilitate thought and action (what some call “emotional intelligence”). Indeed, research has demonstrated that physicians who are advanced in some or all of these components are more likely to have higher job satisfaction, reduced burnout, and improved clinical performance.
The objective of this course is to develop awareness of one’s own emotions in a way that will guide future actions and thoughts, particularly in the realm of medical relationships. During the course sessions, students will engage in experiential activities to explore empathy, reframing, navigating adversity (eg, coping and resilience), balance, gratitude, connection and belonging, and transcendence (eg, awe). The activities will be framed around case vignettes of medical students and physicians facing challenging personal interactions so that course participants will be equipped to apply insights to their own work and practice.
Jane Bogart, EdD is the Director of the Center for Student Wellness at CUMC and an Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Bogart also taught at Teachers College, Columbia University, from which she earned both Masters and Doctoral degrees in Health and Behavior Studies. She has appeared as a “Sexpert” on MTV’s The First National Sex Quiz and you can find her “Howcast” videos about Understanding STIs on YouTube. Her first book, Sexploration: The Ultimate Guide to Feeling Truly Great in Bed (link is external) (Penguin, 2006) was reviewed positively by both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.
Collaborating with Dr. Bogart are Dylan Marshall (P&S MS-3, MPH candidate) and Lauren Wasson, MD, MPH (P&S 2009). Dylan is highly involved in peer-to-peer teaching at P&S, and he is conducting scholarly project research on medical education. Dr. Wasson is a cardiac intensivist at NYP-CUMC who is continually inspired and challenged by the high-emotion relationships underlying her clinical practice with critically ill patients. Her educational background is in anthropology and social/behavioral health, and her part of her current work as the Director of the Office of the Chief Academic Officer (NYP) focuses on the clinical learning environment.
Narrative Medicine Elective for 4th year Medical Students
Director Rita Charon and faculty of the Program in Narrative Medicine offer a month-long intensive fourth-year elective in Narrative Medicine in March. Close reading, writing fiction, and reflective writing develop narrative and literary skills that end up adding to one’s clinical effectiveness. In our Narrative Medicine Immersion month over the past several years, we have gathered twelve fourth-year students from P&S and from visiting medical schools for intensive craft and interpretive training, with the conceptual framework in mind that strengthening the skills of representation is a powerful means toward strengthening the skills of attention in clinical work. On the basis of student evaluations, the quality of written work produced, and projects that students undertake in the years following the intensive narrative training, the elective has demonstrated a capacity to target and improve these specific narrative competencies toward attentive and effective patient care.
The elective will include the following 4 parts:
1. Comics & Visual Storytelling Workshop
What can aspiring doctors learn from comics and graphic novels? In this class, we will exercise our storytelling muscles using a format that puts a premium on clarity and efficiency. We’ll explore the connection between words and pictures and relate it to the balance between objective and subjective information that takes place daily on the wards. Selected readings and in-class exercises will focus on comic storytelling fundamentals such as clarity, pacing, mood and technique. Basic instruction on figure drawing, perspective and abstraction/caricature will also be offered, but no previous visual arts experience will be necessary for the course. Each student will complete a 2 page comic story as a final project.
Benjamin Schwartz, MD is a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine and an Assistant Professor of Medicine (in Surgery) at Columbia University Medical Center, working with both the Departments of Surgery and Medicine on educational material geared towards patients, students and teachers. He received his B.A. and M.D. from Columbia University.
2. The Doctor’s Narrative: Identities & Interfaces
Clinical education encourages you to develop a sense of who you are as a doctor-in-training and who is the person for whom you are caring as a patient. There are times at which you might feel as if there are four identities in the room: you, you as a doctor, the patient, and the person who is the patient. Now, on the verge of the conferral of your MD degree, we will examine closely these identities and their narratives. In particular, we will focus on the point of contact between these identities in the clinical encounter and the complex set of emotions that may come up in these meaningful interfaces. We will review basic psychoanalytic principles (wishes, fears, defenses, transference and countertransference) and how they help us to reflect on our experience of becoming doctors. We will use narratives from works of fiction, non-fiction and from our own experience.
Jonathan Amiel, MD is the Associate Dean for Curricular Affairs at P&S. He has a strong interest in medical education and humanism in medicine and he works closely with the AAMC and the Gold Humanism Honor Society. He is particularly delighted to teach part of the narrative medicine course in which he took part as a fourth-year P&S student.
3. Contemporary Fiction
We will read a novel or a group of short stories and occasionally a theoretical essay each week, including on the first meeting. The seminar’s goal is to strengthen the skills of close reading. The essays will give us some ideas about what happens when we read and why each reader seems to find his or her own story. We will pay attention to the narrative features of the novels as well as to their plots—genre, metaphor, narrative strategies, temporal structure, and the like. We will really immerse ourselves in the narrative worlds offered by the fiction-writers, getting some sense of the power of our imaginations and capacity to enter alien worlds. The assignments are to read the novel, stories, or essay closely and to write a short reader-response to the fiction prior to class and e-mail (or Canvas) them around to the group ahead of time. Seminar participants are invited but not required to submit a 3-10 page paper on one of the works of fiction by the end of the month.
Rita Charon, MD, PhD is a general internist and a literary scholar, focusing on the works of Henry James. Dr. Charon is the originator of the field of Narrative Medicine and executive director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia. She is author of Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness, co-author of The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine, and co-editor of Psychoanalysis and Narrative Medicine and Stories Matter: The Role of Narrative in Medical Ethics.
4. Creative Writing Workshop
What is fiction writing for, and how does it work? How and why do we transform our ideas and experiences into literary art? This workshop will address these questions through reading of stories and poems, classroom discussions, and writing exercises. By the end of the course, students will have a practical experience of short story composition, revision and critique of their own and others’ work. Workload will include the reading of short stories, writing short exercises, and the development of one longer piece that will be read and discussed by the class.
Chris Adrian, MD is currently Writer-in-Residence in the Columbia Program in Narrative Medicine and a fellow in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at CUMC. His fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, and other magazines and he is the author of four novels and a collection of short stories.
Narrative and Social Medicine Scholarly Project Track
Narrative Medicine is one of 6 research tracks available to students at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons for the Scholarly Project Program. Rita Charon, MD, PhD, is the director of the Narrative and Social Medicine track.
The Narrative and Social Medicine Track is the site for projects in humanities, ethics, creative writing, visual arts, and narrative studies broadly defined. It is the site for social medicine projects involving observations or interviews with patients and professionals, health policy, health economics, social activism, and health care justice. We are interested in the lived experiences of persons in health care, including patients and families, professionals and students. The Track is forming a clearing for students, scholars, and practitioners of many disciplines to unite to learn together and to network with faculty and students who share interests.
All aspects of humanities, the arts, qualitative social sciences, and language studies are included in this track, for example projects in literature, history, ethics, anthropology, health economics, health management, fine arts, cinema, and performance arts as they pertain to illness or health care. The areas of potential study are vast and will engage mentors and supervisors for students’ projects from many units of the university including the medical school, the school of public health, the school of the arts, arts and sciences, the school of journalism, the law school and the business school. We will encourage collaboration with faculty and students from all professional schools at CUMC toward increasing the effectiveness of health care teams.
The Track will encourage assertively the importance of publication or presentation of results of the Scholarly Projects. The Track Director and individual mentors are charged to review with students potential journals to which to submit written Capstones. They will help students to identify academic conferences to which abstracts of work accomplished in the Scholarly Project can be submitted. It is hoped that these Scholarly Projects contribute to the student’s forward trajectory in medicine and act as a catapult in establishing the student as a serious scholar/researcher in his or her field of study.
Some recent projects include:
A narrative inquiry of a group of 24 ICU patients who “survived due to family wishes only.” These patients were given grim prognoses by ICU physicians, yet their families chose to continue aggressive treatment, and the patients survived to return home. This student will perform chart reviews and interviews with families to learn about the motives for and outcomes of the choice to continue care. Mentor Dr. Agarwal, MICU
A cross-cultural study of East/West medical beliefs undertaken by a student raised in an Eastern culture that holds beliefs at odds with prevailing Western medical traditions. The student seeks to find bridging or integrative concepts and practices between East and West medicine. The mentors include a professor of comparative religion and a Buddist-trained psychoanalyst.
A student with a background in playwrighting is writing a play called “Rapture” depicting a ghostly, meditative confrontation with what might lie beyond life. Insipired by the student’s experiences in anatomy and MCY, the play examines themes of desolation, isolation, darker impulses, ghosts of memory, and existentialism. Mentor Catherine Rogers, playwright, actor, and faculty in the Narrative Medicine Program.
In ”The Skyrocketing Prices of Drugs,” a student will research the crush of factors leading to the exorbitant rise in prescription drug prices in the US. The student will undertake a literature review and conduct interviews with pharmaceutical industry personnel. Mentor Dr. Robert Sideli