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February Narrative Medicine Rounds: Arthur Kleinman

“The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor,” a talk by Arthur Kleinman

For our first Narrative Medicine Rounds of 2020, co-sponsored with the Department of Psychiatry, we are honored to welcome renowned psychiatrist, social anthropologist, author, and expert on the subject of caregiving, Dr. Arthur Kleinman, who has taught at Harvard for over forty years.

His compelling new book, THE SOUL OF CARE: The Moral Education of a Husband and Doctor (Viking, 2019) delivers a deeply human and inspiring story of his life in medicine and his marriage to Joan, and a detailed look at the practical, emotional, and moral aspects of caregiving. The Soul of Care reveals a difficult truth—that despite all his medical training and expertise, nothing could have prepared him for the painful decade he spent as the primary caregiver for his wife Joan, as she suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s. The result is a beautifully written and poignant love story, a book that crosses genres, and a timely look at why care is central to all of our lives—and how it is at risk in today’s world.

Arthur Kleinman, MD, is one of the most influential scholars and writers on psychiatry, anthropology, global health, and cultural issues in medicine. His seminal work, The Illness Narratives, has been taught at medical schools for many years. Educated at Stanford University and Stanford Medical School, he is currently professor of psychiatry and of medical anthropology at Harvard Medical School and Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor of Anthropology in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Having spent decades doing field research in China and Taiwan, he is also a leading expert on East Asia, and was the Victor and William Fung Director of Harvard’s Asia Center from 2008 to 2016. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Caregiving is long, hard, unglamorous work—at times joyous, more often tedious, sometimes agonizing, but always rich in meaning. In a country with an aging population, this work becomes both more common and more crucial. Yet Kleinman argues that we are living in a dangerous time when high-quality care is seriously threatened, not only by a lack of resources and understanding but by an “anti-caring ethos.” In his own words, he tells us: “Care can be wrongly portrayed as softness and sentimentality. It is neither. Care is the human glue that holds together families, communities and societies. Care offers an alternative story of how we live and who we are. But it is being silenced and diminished in value, in America and around the world, sacrificed on the altar of economy and efficiency, demanding more and more of families and health care professionals with fewer and fewer resources, and threatening to displace meaning in health care.”

Narrative Medicine Rounds are monthly rounds on the first Wednesday of the month during the academic year hosted by the Division of Narrative Medicine in the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. These events are free and open to the public. While we do not live stream these events, you can listen to a podcast of them on iTunes.


Additional Speakers

Arthur Kleinman