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Dr. Bruce Campbell: Fostering Narrative Medicine Education for the Medical College of Wisconsin Community Throughout the Pandemic

Dr. Bruce Campbell, ‘19SPS CPA in Narrative Medicine, is a head and neck cancer surgeon in the Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin. As the spread of COVID-19 threatens his community, he has turned to narrative medicine techniques to help healthcare workers and medical students navigate these challenging times on the front lines of the pandemic.

Last month, Dr. Campbell began working with  the Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education to edit a newsletter called “Transformational Times,” which focuses on the “human” side of the COVID-19 pandemic as it affects his community in Milwaukee. He has also been called on to develop a narrative medicine course for medical students that utilizes the foundational  knowledge he acquired in the Narrative Medicine CPA program.

We caught up with Dr. Campbell to learn how he is employing Narrative Medicine techniques in his work:

How did you come to the Narrative Medicine Certificate of Professional Achievement (CPA) program?

I always enjoyed writing but wanted to blend my writing with my medical practice and teaching. I met Rita Charon at a conference in Iowa and heard about the CPA program from her. I read her earlier book, Narrative Medicine, and knew that I wanted to know more. The opportunity to learn from the leaders of the field brought me to the CPA. 

All we can do is be present, follow the guidelines, and hope that we do the right thing for this patient in this place at this moment. Because the storm is coming. And it might change everything once again.

— Bruce Campbell, ‘19SPS, Narrative Medicine CPA

What have been your impressions of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far?

I am proud of and fearful for my colleagues on the front lines. I am disturbed by the messaging from the President, as well as from my own state capital.  The pandemic has reawakened feelings in me that I had during the early days of HIV/AIDS, after 9/11, and as we approached Y2K. Much is unknown. A lot will change, but we don't know what. 

I do write a bit, as well. I wrote an essay titled “Waiting for Coronavirus,” which you can read here as well as “Narrative Medicine in the Time of COVID-19,” which aired on Milwaukee’s NPR affiliate, WUWM, and you can read/listen to here

How are you using Narrative Medicine in your practice?

I am sharing writing opportunities with my medical community with the newsletter, by creating a weekly writing prompt, and by editing essays and perspectives of faculty and students. I am rapidly trying to put together an asynchronous four-week elective course on Narrative Medicine for our M3/M4 students in medical school who are currently not being allowed in the hospital. I am using the CPA courses to inspire what we do. 

I hope that some of the stories we read together will plant seeds that will take root and grow. One day, one of the [medical] students will meet a patient whose life is glancingly similar to someone we met in a short story, a poem, or a painting. Maybe they will remember. If so, they will be a better physician for that patient.


— Bruce Campbell, ‘19SPS, Narrative Medicine CPA

Tell us a little bit more about your newsletter.

We hope that it provides a narrative opportunity for our community to balance the deluge of clinical information on COVID-19 that comes as we experience the pandemic. We are just getting started. Here is a link to our newsletter. We are welcoming (and editing) perspective pieces, publishing photos, including quick 3-question interviews, publishing 100-word reflections, and providing a few informational links. The goal is a short, reflective newsletter. Feedback is good thus far, but we're still feeling our way.

Learn more about the Online Certification of Professional Achievement in Narrative Medicine program.