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Narrative and Medicine

The New England Journal of Medicine, February 26, 2004


More and more health care professionals and patients are recognizing the importance of the stories they tell one another of illness. Since 1991, medical educators have been paying increasing attention to narrative competence, defined as the set of skills required to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by the stories one hears or reads.

The more medicine understands the complexities of illness, the better clinicians can formulate their roles with respect to patients, both in technical dimensions and in dimensions of meaning. Narrative studies, many physicians are beginning to believe, can provide the "basic science" of a story-based medicine that can honor the patients who endure illness and nourish the physicians who care for them.

The author, Rita Charon, M.D., Ph.D., is a faculty member of The Program in Narrative Medicine, part of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

Subjects Covered: healing, medicine

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