Narrative Medicine

"The people who come to see us bring us their stories. They hope they tell them well enough so that we understand the truth of their lives. They hope we know how to interpret their stories correctly. We have to remember that what we hear is their story."

—The Call of Stories, Robert Cole, MD

In the Pre-Professional Health Sciences Program at Seattle Pacific University, we believe in the power of story to increase empathy and render possible the practice of medicine as a moral endeavor for all health care providers.

According to Dr. Rita Charon, “The care of the sick unfolds in stories. The effective practice of healthcare requires the ability to recognize, absorb, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others.” Charon is a general internist and literary scholar who founded the field and established an Ivy League program in narrative medicine. She believes that medicine practiced with attention to narrative exemplifies the most effective and humane approach to health care. Consequently, we draw on the narrative approach to develop reflective practices among our pre-health students at Seattle Pacific University.

Our goal is to help students perceive the ability of narrative and storytelling to empower caregivers and patients to voice their experience by creating a space in which each individual’s humanity is heard, seen, and valued. “Every patient has a story that goes beyond the symptoms they bring into the doctor’s office,” according to Dr. Kris Krisberg.

Our students build their own storytelling skills through reading and writing narrative medicine. In this way, they develop an understanding of medicine that transcends the scientific and engages humanistic and social perspectives. Students thereby gain insight into their professional and personal lives as future healthcare providers. In our program, we believe that students will accomplish the following objectives:

  • Broaden their perspectives on the lives of physicians and other health care providers.
  • Investigate the moral aspects of clinical encounters.
  • View the illness experience from the patient’s perspective.
  • Perceive the relevance of literature to medicine.
  • Develop an awareness and understanding of medical issues as represented in literature.

At the end of their sojourn, PPHS students will draw on their narrative abilities to construct a personal statement and complete other essays for their professional school applications. When writing a personal statement, it is crucial for each student to avoid simply telling about his or her preparation. Instead, students can use stories to show the admissions committee who they are and highlight their personal characteristics, motivations, and goals in a unique and interesting manner that will truly strengthen their chances at admittance. As we travel across the nation for admissions conferences and conversations, we hear a constant refrain about the effectiveness of our applicants’ essays from schools of medicine and professional programs.