I have a new job as Director of Narrative Medicine at Temple University's Lewis Katz School of Medicine. My mission is to focus on the human side of medicine. Essentially, I'm encouraging students, doctors, nurses, staff and even patients to share their stories, and I'm telling stories myself from the hospital. The underlying premise is that stories are an indispensable part of medicine, too often overlooked. The program is mine to build, and it's very exciting. There's already lots of student interest, which is terrific.
As a journalist, I discovered that stories have the power to heal, to inspire, to connect with people and to end our sense of isolation. Stories can do so much good, and I’ve always found immense joy in the creative process, in the craft, starting with a blank page and creating something wonderful. I realized my best stories often started at the bedside, and not only celebrated the dignity of the person's journey, but also illuminated a bigger issue or problem or challenge facing the region or country. I gravitated toward medical narratives because I believed medicine was so rich, so complex, so full of opportunity for great storytelling. Life gets real at the bedside. There’s no varnish or hype, just honesty and authenticity.
In recent years, I noticed that many more physicians are writing, both to save the world and to save themselves. They shine a light on important problems and also nourish their own souls, making sense of and finding meaning in their own experiences. Medicine can be so hard and demanding and isolating and full of pressure. I also discovered the emerging trend of narrative medicine, broadly defined as a focus on the patient and patient story. A premise of narrative medicine is that physicians cannot provide the best patient care, and won’t find true satisfaction in their work, unless they know their patients' stories.
So building this program will be a great opportunity, especially at a place like Temple, which is in the heart of North Philadelphia and serves one of the poorest communities in America. I want to share my storytelling skills, my appreciation for stories, with the students, and help them develop theirs. I want to encourage the students to write and reflect, to process their experiences and express their feelings. I believe doing so will be a great tonic, a relief from the pressure of medical school and residency, and a source of joy. I also want to tell stories myself. I want to bring a sense of wonder to the the hospital, to focus on the humanity and the extraordinary stories that unfold here every day, from the heartbreaking to the heroic.
I hope to get students and patients and doctors and nurses to write, and to publish the best of it on Temple’s website or in medical journals or the popular press. I want to teach in an elective what I know about listening and building trust and loving stories. I want to bring in physicians who write to talk about what and when and why they write. It’s a tall order, but a thrilling one. That’s why I’m here. I hope I can help.
I started the new job in April of 2016, and on May 12, the first anniversary of the crash in Philadelphia of Amtrak train 188, I wrote two stories for Temple’s new narrative medicine website that we are building. The first one is about the passenger who was at Temple hospital the longest, in the ICU 77 days, an amazing story. The second is a collection of reflections from people who worked in the ER that night.
Here is a link to most of my stories for Temple:
And here is a story recently by a Temple ER Doc that for a time was the "most viewed" story on the New York Times website:
Here is a piece a student wrote about our narrative medicine program: http://www.doctorswhocreate.com/pulitzer-prize-winning-journalist-focuses-on-narrative-medicine/
Here is another story about my narrative medicine program. Click on link below and go to page 4.
I’ve got so many ideas. Onward and upward!