What the Heck is Narrative Medicine?

Well, it’s an obvious question, I guess.  What is Narrative Medicine?  I’m asked this question fairly often when I say I have a masters degree in the topic.  And a one-line answer is that Narrative Medicine recognizes and values the importance of stories in the medical encounter.  How I explain it is to say that a patient comes to the doctor with his or her story of illness. This illness narrative is part of the larger story of that patient’s life, usually an unanticipated chapter or sometimes a direct consequence of some aspect of that life story.  In a similar way  as doctor or nurses or medicl students, we bring our own life story to that patient encounter.  We may not talk about it but it’s there.  That I am a woman, a mother, a sister, I like to ski, I grew up in the country, I speak french, these things will affect what I bring to the encounter.  And then there is the story of the patient getting care from the doctor, of Joe Schlebotnowitz seeing Dr. Ball for his pneumonia.  Narrative Medicine gives us tools and perspectives to understand that when we listen closely to those stories and reflect on them, when a patient feels that he or she is really being heard and when a doctor or other provider feels that the connection with the patient has truly been made, then there is better care.

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