Novel approach to medical care? Docs trained in storytelling

(October 11, 2018)

Dr. Rita Charon was recently named the National Endowment for the Humanities 2018 Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities. She will speak on how the arts and humanities enhances medical care on Oct. 15 at Warner Theatre in Northwest D.C.  The event is free; registration is required.

There is no denying that cutting-edge equipment and pharmaceutical breakthroughs can help save lives — but so can a doctor trained in storytelling.

Dr. Rita Charon is a Harvard-trained internist who practices general medicine. She is also a literary scholar who earned her Ph.D. studying the works of Henry James. And these days, Charon is merging her two areas of expertise to advance the medical field.

As the chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Medical Ethics at Columbia University Medical Center, Charon helps train health professionals on the art of storytelling in order to better understand patients.

“For many, many years, it was impossible to really grasp what patients were trying to tell me. I knew that so much of what they wanted to tell me, I didn’t know how to hear,” she said about her own experience practicing medicine.

Charon didn’t find the answer to her dilemma in medical books, but rather, in literature. Now, she is educating others on the coupling of humanities and health care with her courses in narrative medicine.

“Narrative medicine was born in order to give doctors, nurses, social workers, some real deep skills on how to listen to people as they give complex stories about themselves,” she said.