Narrative Medicine


If you’re like me, the term Narrative Medicine isn’t something you’ve heard often.  Now that I think about it, the first time I saw the term was as a sign in Borders’ Bookstore (R.I.P.) as a subsection of the titles on Medicine & Health.

Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons actually offers a Master’s of Science in Narrative Medicine.  Their website  features a book by Rita Charon on the subject, published five years ago.  In a nutshell, narrative medicine is the art of listening to the patient, and the skill of relating the doctor-patient experience and relationship in narrative form.  The purpose of this movement appears to be the desire to counterbalance the trend in medicine toward an over-reliance on reductionism, “evidence based” medicine, technology driven assessments and treatments, and commoditization of care where the procedure and diagnostic codes reimbursements trump the patient’s story or the doctor’s accumulated wealth of experience.

I was reviewing this concept with our staff this morning, in the wake of blogging about how good we are with our “bedside manner”, and how I appreciate their understanding of its significance.   While we always welcome more research, compassionate patient care lends itself to phenomenal anecdotal evidence.  Rather than being dismissive of anecdotes, narrative medicine embraces its significance.

There is a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt that comes to mind:  People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

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