Why does narrative matter?

After reading “Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust” by Rita Charon, I wanted to be able to answer the question “Why does narrative matter?”; and as I was reading this article I came across a quote that really spoke to me about this.  Charon states, “Narrative writing by students and physicians has become a staple in many medical schools and hospitals to strengthen reflection, self-awareness, and the adoption of patients’ perspectives.” This stood out to me because as I read this quote, I realized that narrative allows a physician to see their patient as an actual person who is suffering, and living through this illness, and not just as a diagnosis. As a person who has lived through a life threating illness, I was in this same situation. Before I was officially diagnosed, I felt as if I was looked at by all these different doctors as a diagnosis on paper, and not an actual human being who was living and suffering through this illness. It wasn’t until I actually had a single doctor who sat back and allowed me to tell my story, did I feel like I was real; like what I was living through wasn’t just a made up thing in my head, or a classroom experiment. Narrative matters because patients who are suffering deserve their dignity. They deserve to feel like a real person who matters, and Charon shows how narrative medicine can accomplish that.

This brings me to my second point. In Radio Lab: “Tell me a story” , Robert Krulwich talks about how narrative, or more specifically, telling a story, allows a scientist to connect and enlighten the average person.  Krulwich says “So yes, science stories don’t always win. But at the least it should be a tug of war. And if you tell them right, they have the power to change minds.” Krulwich encourages scientists to tell their stories not complexly, but in a way that everyone can understand, because he believes that we have to protect the knowledge we have given and spread it to those who do not have the opportunity to learn it, so that way we can evolve society’s way of thinking, and make a more enlightened world.

2 thoughts on “Why does narrative matter?”

  1. You do a really nice job connecting what Charon is saying to your own life and experience. Yes, it is so true that when healthcare practitioners look at their patients as people instead of diagnoses, patients heal and much less money is spent getting there.

  2. One more thing… in the midst of discussing how we can “fix” our healthcare in this country, it seems to me that simply training healthcare workers to have what Charon calls “narrative competence” can revolutionize our health care system.

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