Workshop on narrative medicine centers caring

Courtesy of NWNMC

Lewis & Clark hosted the Northwest Narrative Medicine Collaborative (NWNMC) on Feb. 24. with support from the Mellon Foundation. Narrative medicine is an interdisciplinary field bringing the humanities into clinical practice and healthcare in an effort to humanize medicine and promote inclusive, empathetic care. 

The NWNMC held an all-day Narrative Scribe Training for those studying or practicing health-related professions, those living with health conditions, caregivers or anyone interested in pursuing narrative medicine. The training curriculum helps attendees develop deep listening skills for stories of health, illness and healing. The curriculum is founded on the principle that reflecting on listening and witnessing can contribute to social change. 

“(Our mission) is to create a community that learns, practices and teaches what to do with health narratives and stories,” literature provided at the event stated.

NWNMC’s President Elizabeth Lahti came to speak at LC. She opened the talk with her inspiration to start NWNMC, which began with a phone call from the mother of a young cancer patient.

“She wanted to learn more about what narrative medicine was because, in her words, she was having a really hard time processing what was happening with her son in a way that was more meaningful to who he was: a human, and less of just a patient or a child with cancer,” Lahti said. 

She then explained the intentions behind starting NWNMC.

“We decided to start the collaborative basically as a way for patients and their family members alongside health professionals, like doctors, nurses and social workers, to learn from and about each other through experiences, through stories. We can all create a better healthcare setting and experience if we listen really deeply (to) everybody that is involved in a patient’s care,” Lahti said.

The workshop was free of charge to LC students who are enrolled in Health Studies courses 210: Public Health or 345: Narrative Medicine Practicum. It was available at a low cost to other students and a higher cost for general community members.

One of the attendants, LC alum and Emergency Room Physician David Toovy ’85, appreciated the unique approach the training has offered to students. 

“It is just enjoyable for me. It is (a) time to reflect and have fun and connect with a younger cohort of people interested in social justice with some kind of focus in health, whether that is community health, population health, or specific provider-patient health,” said Toovy. 

Among the tables spread out in Smith Hall, attendants were able to talk to seven different facilitators who worked in various professions, from substance use treatment to clinical instruction. They asked facilitators how they use narrative medicine in their practices. The collaborative also had speakers come and talk about their experiences with narrative medicine.

“The speakers have been dedicated to this for a long time and have been very passionate about this. They are presenting with zeal and they are engaging and they are interesting,” said Toovy. “There is not just one person, which is nice. It is different personalities, each one trying to hone in on one perspective of this concept.” 

Many students who attended the training understood narrative medicine through not only their intended professional careers, but also as patients on the receiving end. Ezra Atha ’25 explained what drew them to the training.

“Narrative medicine is something that I hope to potentially apply if I end up being a therapist, but also from a patient standpoint. Unfortunately, I have experienced this side of the medical world where I feel very ignored. My body feels ignored,” said Atha. “Narrative medicine can change patient and provider interaction (and) can improve … how people can feel seen in any sense of the word … bringing that so people do not have to experience what I have experienced.” 

Throughout the training, participants took part in modules on equal positioning and repeating what they hear to practice facilitation as a listener in the healthcare setting. The positionality module focused on how power, privilege and identity can impact a sense of community within the medical system.

Narrative Scribe Training intends to bring a shared experience and humanity to individuals who are managing illness while simultaneously bringing their loved ones into the dialogue. By exploring interdisciplinary approaches to medical care, the practice embraces differences, bettering the future of medicine for patients and healthcare practitioners alike.

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