Philadelphia Medicine Winter 2017-18x - 24

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FEATURE

Current Events in Medical Education:
NARRATIVE MEDICINE
By: Nicholas Nowotarski, MD

"I'm a great believer in the power of stories," Michael Vitez says
to me in his office at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple
University. We were discussing the Narrative Medicine program that
Vitez has established at Temple to help medical students, residents,
and attending physicians cope with the everyday problems of clinical
medicine by telling their own stories and listening to the stories of
others in the field.
As a former medical student, I know all about the negative feelings
that can overtake you, such as frustration, isolation, and burnout and
having a program like this really would have benefited me emotionally.
Vitez, a former Pulitzer Prize winner in Explanatory Journalism, has
an interest in the human side of medicine and was awarded for his
work documenting end-of-life care experiences of patients.

From right to left, Jessica Fleischer, first
year medical student, LKSOM, Michael
Vitez, Katya Ahr, first year medical
student, LKSOM. The students won
writing awards in Vitez's program.
Picture courtesy of Phil Delrosario."

When I asked him how this field will be therapeutic for those
working in the medical field, he replied, "By focusing on stories, I
think you really try to focus on the humanity of medicine, which we
often overlook, and by also focusing on reflection and giving doctors
and students the tools to reflect, this helps them with the incredible
things they experience and emotions they feel."
It was fascinating to hear about the philosophy for the program, but
I was still curious about how "narrative medicine" was implemented
logistically. Vitez talked about workshops that he held weekly where a
piece of literature is read by medical students, such as a Walt Whitman
poem, and then discussed among a group. "It's a great tonic for them
(students). It's a way to see things differently and appreciate language,
story, and beauty. It's a nice, little break for them before they get back
into their intense studying," adds Vitez.
There is also a website in which Vitez, students, residents, and attending physicians share their stories. These stories can be self-reflective
or they can be about patients at Temple University Hospital. One
such story, "How to Tell a Mother Her Child Is Dead," was submitted
to the New York Times and was the most-read story on their website
for nearly 24 hours. Improv shows and story nights have also taken
place as part of this program. Vitez hopes that one day he will be able

24 Philadelphia Medicine : Winter 2018


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