up SearchFeedback[help] CPMCnet

P & S  S T U D E N T S

Second-year Students Visit the Narrative Realm

By Kristen Watson

Viewing science and technology as only half of a complete medical education, Dr. Rita Charon, associate professor of clinical medicine, strives to bring whole and centered medical studies to P&Sstudents through the Humanities and Medicine Seminar Series.

The seminars are not merely a break from science courses, Dr. Charon explains. They are designed to augment students' medical training as they prepare to interact with-and soon take care of-sick patients in the hospital. "Through the seminars, students can improve their narrative skills-their capacities to follow the narrative thread of what patients try to tell them, to imagine a perspective other than their own, to behold the full predicaments of patients, including both the knowable and the mysterious, and to reflect on their own personal journeys through medicine and through life. Such capacities are critical to effective medicine, but they are not developed in the ordinary course of medical training."

Students learned to capture gestures and positions of the human form in “Life Drawing for Medical Students,” one of the courses offered last spring as part of the Humanities and Medicine Seminar Series.
Students learned to capture gestures and positions of the human form in “Life Drawing for Medical Students,” one of the courses offered last spring as part of the Humanities and Medicine Seminar Series.
Last spring, 14 seminars were offered in a variety of humanities areas, including literature, visual arts, photography, religious studies, art history, history of medicine, philosophy of science, and yoga and meditation. Students also can fulfill the seminar requirement by enrolling in a course at Columbia's Morningside campus (in previous years students have taken film classes, Russian poetry, oil painting, and philosophy of science). "It's rare for medical students to be able to choose," says Dr. Charon. "Medical school is usually so regimented-near militaristic."

Acting as seminar series coordinator and instructor of the "Narrative Writing in Medicine" and "Literature and Medicine" courses enables Dr. Charon, who earned a Ph.D. in English in February, to experience the best of both worlds. "I have the luxury of being both an internist and a literary scholar."

Her recipe for success in all of the seminars is simple: "You have to invest something in it; you have to have imagination. The seminars are not effective unless you are connected to the self and use your talents."

Andrew Holz'01 could not agree more with Dr. Charon's "you get what you give" philosophy. After taking Father Daniel Morrissey's "Faith in the Face of the Practice of Medicine" seminar last spring, Mr. Holz feels he has taken a critical step in his development as a doctor. "The seminar is certainly one of my fondest memories of medical school and is probably very important to my eventual success in medicine," he says. The faith seminar is designed to help students examine and strengthen personal principles and beliefs as they are tested in daily medical training. Classes study questions of dedication, distancing, and physician-assisted suicide.

Mr. Holz chose this seminar because his spirituality is the most central thing in his life. "I attended the seminar to hear my soul's ineffable answers to the questions it posed," he says. "I think knowing yourself is what will really guide every decision in life-it's at the core of happiness and peace with myself, which is surely integral to my success as a caregiver. I urge people not to miss out on an opportunity like this. Just remember: Its self-directed. Attendance does not equal enlightenment."

On the flip side of student-as-seminar-participant, the "Basic Black-and-White Photography, Developing, and Printing Techniques" seminar last spring offered a student as an instructor. After taking photography classes for eight years, Ana Blohm'01 shared her knowledge with fellow students. The seminar led beginners through the basic processes of taking pictures, developing film, and making good quality final prints from negatives.

Ms. Blohm hopes members of the class will stick with photography as a means of relaxation. Much like the "Yoga, Relaxation, and Meditation" seminar offered last spring, photography can help students reduce stress and promote well-being. Like the "Life Drawing for Medical Students" seminar, it can enhance a student's appreciation of form. Studying gestures made by their human subjects will help students in the medical interview process, enabling them to pick up clues their patients do not verbalize. The combination of stress-free students and a better understanding of the movement of the human body is intended to result in more receptive caregivers.

The Humanities and Medicine Seminar Series is a work in progress as Dr. Charon and her students refine seminars, add topics, and learn how best to connect the narrative capacities to the clinical skills students are developing at the same time. "The long range goals of the seminars are to enable P&S graduates to practice medicine with their full selves, using all their gifts toward the health of the patient, s"ays Dr. Charon.

Return to Table of Contents