The Buffalo News this morning published a thoughtful opinion piece by Thomas C. Rosenthal, M.D., the chief medical executive of Optimum Physician Alliance. From the point of view of patients, knowing their physician’s views on patient care and discussing all options together helps guarantee that their wishes will be heard and understood.
Rosenthal describes physician attitudes and beliefs as either “cowboy," aggressively pursuing interventional care, or “comforter," offering palliative care as an option. But there are other models for thinking about and practicing the art of healing.
One of these is narrative medicine. The now-classic book, The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition, by Arthur Kleinman, M.D., helped introduce the importance of actively listening to patient stories to the general public along with healthcare personnel.
Columbia University Medical Center has pioneered the active teaching of narrative medicine to medical students. Its current programs also teach narrative medicine through workshops and a master’s degree program, and Dr. Kleinman is actively engaged with Columbia in this work.
Closer to home, the University at Buffalo Medical School is actively working with narrative medicine along with medical ethics and medical humanities. Just last month, the UB Medical School presented a forum for primary care titled “Primary Care Research Forum: "Stories My Patients Tell Me: Humanism and Narrative Medicine" with the purpose of, the UB website said, “addressing underlying psychosocial issues in patients with chronic illness (humanistic practice),” as well as to talk about ways to help medical students and physicians make humanism a component of their practice.
When patients consult alternative wellness practitioners, traditionally they have found close attention to their stories, including the events that led up to symptoms. Listening to narratives is a means of establishing rapport and relationship, but that is not its only purpose. It also provides a window so that the practitioner can discover what patients believe about their symptoms and enter into their worlds to see situations from their points of view.
In turn, that kind of partnership can uncover options for treatment through which both the suffering and the illness might be alleviated, no matter what the affiliation, belief, or perspective of the health practitioner or physician.
Linda Chalmer Zemel received the Exceptional Performance Award as a member of the faculty of the National Guild of Hypnotists. She retired from SUNY Monroe Community College as adjunct assistant professor of English, and currently teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College.
Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org