...who'd have thought a hospital chart could become an educational intervention and a catalyst for creativity!
Ten years after graduating from Harvard Medical School Rita Charon returned to University to complete a PhD in English Literature. She then set about melding her two academic careers. In 1998 at Columbia University Charon founded a program in Narrative Medicine. Amongst many other wonderful exercises and activities, medical students in their 3rd and 4th years were asked to write "parallel charts" - tracking the things that were not mentioned in the official charts about the patients emotional experience of hospitalisation. Once a week the students were asked to read their accounts to each other. The point? To encourage young doctors to listen to the patients' stories and address their patients' whole humanity.
“When you write, you often discover not only what the patient is thinking and feeling, but what you are thinking and feeling,” says Charon. As she explains to her students, “These memories, these sadnesses, these feelings influence the care you give."
Charon has gone on to publish several books including "Narrative Medicine, Honoring the Stories of Illness". She has also served as editor in chief of the journal Literature and Medicine the biennial journal of the Institute of Medical Humanities published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
Columbia has had a Masters of Science in Narrative Medicine since 2009 under Charon's direction.
Charon hopes her program encourages more doctors to write about their experiences. “They now bring us manuscripts, and I have gotten the Writing Division at Columbia to hold a workshop here, once or twice a month, where these aspiring authors can get editing counsel,”
Read more about the Columbia program HERE and watch Dr Charon's TED talk called Honouring the Stories of Illness where she talks about teaching the art of story telling and receiving HERE