National Endowment for the Humanities Helps Narrative Medicine Evolve

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has graciously supported the Narrative Medicine program at Columbia University.

In 2003, NEH offered $185,000 to advance the interdisciplinary field of Narrative Medicine, a graduate course of study that convenes creative professionals as well as aspiring and experienced medical professionals to explore how the humanities can help heal healthcare.

What can art and literature teach us about offering and receiving care? “Stories are complicated things. They do not relinquish their meanings easily,” says Charon. “The clinician has to be expertly trained to hear and register and interpret accurately everything that a patient might say. Narrative medicine training strengthens the listener’s capacity and speed and accuracy in receiving what their patients want them to know.”

Since receiving the grant, Prof. Rita Charon and her fellow faculty members have made strides to advance the field. Charon penned the textbook Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2008. In 2009, Narrative Medicine study evolved even further as Columbia created an M.S. in Narrative Medicine, led by Academic Director Craig Irvine and Executive Director Rita Charon.

NEH noted, “Narrative medicine curricula and projects can now be found in the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Australia. Going beyond physician training, workshops regularly attract nurses, social workers, mental health professionals, chaplains, and academics.”

Charon says, “By teaching clinicians how stories work, what happens to their tellers and listeners, and where stories hide their news—in form, in metaphor, in mood, in time and space—we enable them to enter the narrative worlds described by their patients.”

Read the rest of the story at the NEH website, and find out more about the M.S. in Narrative Medicine.