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Narrative medicine

  • Season: Season 2
  • Posted On:
  • Featuring: Sean Collins, Rita Charon, M.D., Ph.D., & Kathy Kirkland, M.D.

Twenty years ago, Dr. Rita Charon coined the phrase "narrative medicine." We talk with her and her former student, Dr. Kathy Kirkland, about their careers listening closely to the stories patients tell.

From the October 17, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association:

The effective practice of medicine requires narrative competence, that is, the ability to acknowledge, absorb, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others. Medicine practiced with narrative competence, called narrative medicine, is proposed as a model for humane and effective medical practice. Adopting methods such as close reading of literature and reflective writing allows narrative medicine to examine and illuminate 4 of medicine's central narrative situations: physician and patient, physician and self, physician and colleagues, and physicians and society. With narrative competence, physicians can reach and join their patients in illness, recognize their own personal journeys through medicine, acknowledge kinship with and duties toward other health care professionals, and inaugurate consequential discourse with the public about health care. By bridging the divides that separate physicians from patients, themselves, colleagues, and society, narrative medicine offers fresh opportunities for respectful, empathic, and nourishing medical care.




Columbia University's Narrative Medicine Program

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Palliative Medicine

"Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust"  (html/pdf)  JAMA 2001; 286: 1897-1902)

Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness by Rita Charon, M.D. (2006)

The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine by Rita Charon, M.D. et al. (2016)

Dr. Rita Charon's 2011 TEDx Talk "Honoring the Stories of Illness" (video)

"My Mom's Last Meal" Hear Me Now story told by Seán Collins with Jennifer Traeger  (video)


  • Rita Charon MD PhD
  • Kathy Kirkland MD
  • Seán Collins


  • literature and medicine
  • listening
  • jama
  • narrative medicine
  • patient stories
  • physician-patient communication