Currently at West Virginia University, I have been taking an honors course on Narrative Medicine called Medicine in the Arts. Many do not know what narrative medicine is, or how it impacts the future physicians of tomorrow. Narrative Medicine is based upon three main pillars: attention, representation, and affiliation. Through the class we are meant to make connections between artistic production and the health sciences by examining creative arts, such as dance, creative writing, visual art, music, theatre, and literature.
We have done this by examining a plethora of texts. The main ones we have reviewed were "My Own Country: A Doctor's Story" by Abraham Verghese, "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande, and the film "Wit". The novel "My Own Country" took us inside Dr. Verghese's perspective as he was working with AIDS patients in the 1980s. We see the stigma that surrounds the disease, as well as a physician who sees his patients beyond their symptoms. In "Being Mortal", the plot focuses on end of life care and nursing homes for the elderly. It addresses the issues of empathy, and if it is able to be taught.
The class also allows me to use creative methods outside of my comfort zone to reflect on these art and many others. We had to make a creative midterm project to demonstrate trauma, in which my group constructed a 'Vase of Truth' with text and objects to represent the trauma that was seen in the works we had explored. After reading "My Own Country" we had to do a presentation on how the book influenced us. I presented on the relationship between the AIDs and Opioid epidemics in Appalachia, and how similar and detrimental they are to our health care system.
Through Narrative Medicine I have began to explore how necessary the arts is in the health field. With physician burnout constantly increasing, and the use of Narrative Medicine increasing as well, there is need for reflection through the arts. Many medical schools now offer Narrative Medicine courses, aimed at helping future physicians connect with the part of themselves that wanted to become a physician in the first place. These tactics allow both patients and physicians to properly express what they have witnessed and been through, while benefitting each other in the process.
I encourage all of you to take a course in Narrative Medicine while you are in college, or at least do research on your own to discover its implications.