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The Whole Story of Health

Narrative Medicine by Rita Charon“I’m your doctor and you’re my patient — and in order to help you I need to know a great deal about your body, your health, and your life.” This is how Dr. Rita Charon, literary scholar, internist, and founder of the Narrative Medicine Master’s Program at Columbia University, starts every visit with new patients. She does this to enhance the concept of caring for others by placing patients’ identities and lived experiences at the center of her practice.

After writing my thesis on strategies for integrating patient narratives into reproductive health care, it was an honor to hear Dr. Charon speak at Amherst College last week — her work has always been a huge inspiration to me. She spoke about how she strategically intertwines the arts and medicine to encourage patients to share their personal narratives during patient-provider interactions.

I think this is an admirable, empowering, and necessary model for health care, and I’m constantly looking for ways to incorporate it into my work at CommunicateHealth.

For example, I’m currently working with the Enchanted Circle Theater and The Literacy Project to create arts-based workshops designed to teach students about strategies for self-advocacy in medical encounters. Using the arts and storytelling, we aim to equip students with the tools they need to communicate information about their identity, culture, and ability to access resources to their health care providers.

This is at the heart of Dr. Charon’s concept of Narrative Medicine: when a provider factors a patient’s whole story into the development of a health care plan, everyone wins — the provider does a better job and the patient gets better care.

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