As the year draws to a close, I want to share some details about the impressive American Medical Student Association’s Medical Humanities Scholars Program. A few weeks ago, I joined the conversation in an “Illness Narratives” webinar facilitated by the energetic Aliye Runyan, who shares her AMSA supported MHSP duties with her medical student association colleagues, Gabriela Magda and Maggie Reid Schneider.
For sure, these are busy and stressed medical students. This is especially true for Aliye Runyan, a fourth year medical student, who is scheduled to graduate in 2012 from the University of Miami Medical School, where she plans to specialize as an obstetrician-gynecologist.
I met her last April at The Examined Life Conference supported by the University of Iowa Writing Program and Carver College of Medicine.This noteworthy three-day conference focused on the links between the science of medicine and the art of writing.
In an e-mail, the future doctor informs me that she “founded the AMSA Medical Humanities Scholars Program in 2008 to provide a much needed outlet for humanities education within medical education.” Turning a page from her mentor, Dr. Rita Charon, Runyan joins an increasing number of physician writers who are now writing their prose and poems.
It is very encouraging to hear these future doctors express their interest in learning to read stories and to listen to patients. At a time when doctors have less and less time to spend with patients, poems and stories matter now more than ever. There is increasing agreement among physicians that every patient’s story, whether it be through the admission report, the medical chart, or the arc of an entire life history, is a valued narrative. After all, the patient approaches the physician with one simple question, “My story is broken. Can you fix it?”
In our recently held web conference, participants like Junzi Shi, a first year medical student at the University of Cincinnati, joined others engaging in thoughtful responses to one of the assigned readings. I had sent out an e-mail encouraging students to read Meghan O’ Rourke’s “Story’s End” published in The New Yorker. In the essay, the author poignantly expresses her grief for her mother’s death.
Shi, born in Lanzhou, China, says that she joined MHSP ” to learn about the role that patients’ illness narratives play in their healing process. ”
Others like Sarah Selem, a first-year medical student at the University of Miami School of Medicine is enthusiastic
about participating in the Medical Humanities Scholars Program since it deepens her understanding about how science and the humanities can be used in medicine to care for others.
From the conversations and responses shared with these students, it seems that they do understand that medicine is both an art and science. By exploring medicine through the prose and poems of patients, all of us gain insight into the nature of the human condition, of suffering, of renewal and sometimes of transformation.
All this seems very encouraging since AMSA has over 150 chapters in medical schools across the country and as many as 350 pre-med chapters. This translates into more than 68,000 members, including medical and premedical stuents, residents and practicing physicians.
Certainly there appears increasing interest among medical educators to help both experienced physicians and medical students approach the challenges and at times, conflicts between patient care and health system demands. While the study and integration of literature or the place of story in the medical curriculum does not provide all the answers, it does complement and enhance better medicine.
Send me your story.