Hello 2013! Here’s to beginnings.
First off, let me introduce myself. I’m Trisha Paul, a junior at the University of Michigan pursuing a B.S. in Honors English with a minor in Medical Anthropology. I hope to attend medical school and, eventually, become a Pediatric Oncologist.
I came to college with a fascination for medicine, a love for literature, and an uncertainty about how to pursue both. At the time, I figured that I could major in English in undergrad, then shift gears and head to medical school. Freshman year, however, showed me that these interests were not quite as different as I thought.
I remember reading a New York Times article about Abraham Verghese. I was so excited to see that I wasn’t the only one to share interests in medicine and in literature. I even emailed Dr. Verghese just to tell him how inspiring it was for me to read about his life, and that I have often felt the same way about how medicine and writing require “an infinite curiosity about other people.” I was pleasantly surprised to even get a response from him!
I started to come across other doctors like Perri Klass who shared an interest in literature. There’s even a wikipedia page about physician-writers. The more I learned about these individuals, the more I became convinced that there was a way for me to intertwine my interests in literature and medicine in my future career.
And that’s when I learned about the field of Narrative Medicine. A fellow pre-med English major told me about Columbia University’s Program in Narrative Medicine, which educates leaders who will “imbue patient care and professional education with the skills and values of narrative understanding.”
This program embodies exactly what I had hoped to do; it encourages an exploration of the “and” between literature and medicine. I began delving into this intersection through a number of works: Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Abraham Verghese’s My Own Country, Susan Sontag‘s Illness as Metaphor, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, Rebecca Skloot’s The Life of Henrietta Lacks. The more I read, the more intrigued I become.
At the University of Michigan, there was even an English course offered that explored illness narratives with Howard Markel, another incredible physician-writer. I was eager to take the class and devastated when it was cancelled. Determined to still read the material, I emailed Alexandra Stern, the professor who co-taught the class in the past, with hopes of doing an independent study.
And thanks to Professor Stern’s enthusiasm, that’s what I’ll be doing this semester – studying Illness Narratives: Literature and Medicine. I’m so excited that this worked out, and I can’t wait to learn more about this fascinating body of literature. This blog will be a place for me to reflect about the works that I encounter, to struggle with the text and the ideas that I come across.
I look forward to continuing my investigations of illness narratives even after this semester. It’s a new year, and I’m excited about the new adventures that it brings.