Storytelling saved my sanity during the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown afforded me time to write and share stories about my life and career. I wasn’t writing my memoir as much as I was engaged in the practice of narrative medicine writing — stories about the meaning of illness and opportunities to reflect on the vastness and depth of human experience in the healthcare setting. After I began telling my stories, I discovered the field of narrative medicine has been around since the turn of the century.
Rita Charon, MD, PhD, is widely credited for originating the field of narrative medicine. She inaugurated and teaches in the Master of Science in Narrative Medicine graduate program at Columbia University, where she received her PhD degree in English following her medical degree from Harvard. Charon is also co-author of Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine and other scholarly works. In her seminal article on narrative medicine, published in the Journal of the American Medical Associationopens in a new tab or window in 2001, Charon wrote: “The effective practice of medicine requires narrative competence, that is, the ability to acknowledge, absorb, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others.”