Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 21

M e d i c a l R ec o r d F e a t u r e

Telling Our Stories:
Narrative Writing as a Healing Art
by Olapeju Simoyan, MD, MPH, BDS, FAAFP, FASAM
Medical Director of Research, Caron Treatment Centers

A

s someone who teaches the
fundamentals of evidence- based
medicine, I am acutely aware of its
limitations. Numbers and statistics matter,
but they do not tell the whole " story " .
Physician author Abraham Varghese alluded
to this in a Ted talk, stating: " for the things
that can't be counted, you will need story. " 1
Danielle Ofri, another physician author, says
" Telling the story draws out our soul in the
way that lists of diseases, however important,
do not. " 2 She further states that she could
not be a doctor without her " creative
aspect " , referring to her involvement in
music, dance and literature.3
As health care workers, we are constantly
listening to and telling stories. We may not
have the time to adequately process our
patients' stories in the moment, but we
can find ways to do this outside of clinical
settings. Creative outlets provide safe
spaces that can help us connect with our
patients' and our own emotions. Sharing
creative output allows us to connect with
colleagues and patients in a spirit of shared
understanding.4
Over the years, I have participated in
various efforts that fall under the broad
theme of medical humanities, including
serving as editor for two literary journals.
As a fourth- year medical student at
Penn State College of Medicine, I served as
editor for a literary journal, Wild Onions.
Students, faculty, staff and patients were
invited to submit their artistic creations,
ranging from narrative medicine to poetry,
photography and other works of art for
publication. Submissions were considered
for awards in the art and creative writing
categories. Wild Onions continues to be
published annually, and now has a dedicated
website.5
As a founding faculty member at a
new medical school that was then known
as The Commonwealth Medical College,
(now Geisinger Commonwealth School of
Medicine), I worked with a student group
to start a similar initiative, serving as the

founding Editor in Chief. The literary
journal was named Black Diamonds6, a name
chosen by the students in honor of the coal
mining legacy of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
In addition to showcasing works of art,
it was also an outlet for highlighting
extracurricular activities and community
initiatives. Faculty physicians who were
also musicians and artists were featured and
students shared their clinical experiences
in various settings, including international
locations. We explored and discussed the art
of medicine and the " medicine of art " .
The journal even served as a recruitment
tool. A medical student once told me that
her mother had picked up a copy of Black
Diamonds somewhere and on getting home,
told her, " You have to apply to this school. "
How heartwarming to know that her
decision was at least in part fueled by our
literary magazine!
The first issue of Black Diamonds,
published in 2013, was funded by a grant
from the Arnold Gold Foundation for
Humanism in Medicine and subsequent
issues were funded internally. As the editor,
I wrote an introduction to each issue.
Ironically, even though I was creating an
opportunity for others to write, I spent a
significant amount of time organizing and
editing and there was little time to write
anything beyond my editor's introduction.
This year, the publication was delayed and
even though I had moved to Berks County
to take up my current position, I decided
to write a final editor's piece. In the midst
of a move, job change and pandemic, I
struggled to find the inspiration to write.
The lockdown put things on hold, which
gave me even more time to procrastinate.
What would my essay now focus on? Saying
goodbye? The pandemic? Systemic racism?
Police brutality? Life was getting more
and more complicated and I didn't know
where to start. In the end, I acknowledged
my struggle and wrote about it, in addition
to addressing the issues I had originally
intended to write about. In a similar

manner, writing can help us process the
emotions we experience related to the care
of our individual patients and healthcare
in general. Writing can also serve as a tool
for advocacy for the rights of our individual
patients and the health of the public. And
while I will continue to emphasize the
importance of statistics and numbers with
my learners, in the end, it is the people
behind those numbers and their stories that
really matter.
For anyone interested in exploring
opportunities in narrative medicine or other
aspects of medical humanities, here are a few
resources to get you started:
Arnold Gold Foundation for Humanism
in Medicine. https://www.goldfoundation.org/
Penn State Health Physician Writers
Group. https://sites.psu.edu/humanities/
physician-writers-group/
Stanford Medicine and the Muse
program. https://med.stanford.edu/
medicineandthemuse/about.html
The Pegasus Physician Writers at
Stanford. http://www.pegasusphysicians.
com/
Program in Narrative Medicine at
Columbia University.
https://www.genmed.columbia.edu/
research/research-centers-and-programs/
program-narrative-medicine
References
1.
Verghese, Abraham. Ted talk. The great lie
that tells the truth. https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=fv3vzeOI38c. Accessed 12/7/2020.
2.
Ofri, Danielle. https://danielleofri.com/addingspice-to-the-slog-humanities-in-medical-training/.
Accessed 12/7/2020.
3.
Ofri, Danielle. https://danielleofri.com/dance-andmedicine/. Accessed 12/7/2020.
4.
Niamh, Kelly. What are you doing creatively
these days? Academic Medicine: November 2012
- Volume 87 - Issue 11 - p 1476. doi: 10.1097/
ACM.0b013e31826d68ed
5.
https://sites.psu.edu/wildonions/
6.
https://www.geisinger.edu/education/student-life/
traditions-events/black-diamonds-magazine

WINTER 2021

|

21



Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021

Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 1
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 2
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 3
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 4
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 5
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 6
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 7
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 8
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 9
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 10
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 11
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 12
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 13
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 14
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 15
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 16
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 17
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 18
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 19
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 20
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 21
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 22
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 23
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 24
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 25
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 26
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 27
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 28
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 29
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 30
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 31
Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 32
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Winter2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BCMS_MedicalRecord_Fall2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Summer2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Spring2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Winter2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Fall2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Summer2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksMedicalSocietyHealthWellnessDirectory
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksMedicalRecord_Spring2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksMedicalRecord_Winter2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Fall2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Summer2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Spring2018b
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Winter2017-18
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_Physician_Fall2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/BerksCountyMedicalSociety_MedicalRecord_Summer2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksCountyMedicalSociety/MedicalRecordSpring2017
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com