Illness Narratives, Medical Humanities, and Narrative Medicine

For the past few months, I’ve been on a mission to understand how illness narratives fit into the broader world of academia. I’ve encountered two primary schools of thought: Medical Humanities and Narrative Medicine. By talking to a variety of scholars in both fields, I’ve been trying to decipher how these fit together and what distinguishes them from one another. This is an introductory post to these concepts; throughout a series of posts to come, I hope to share some of my ideas about each of these fields, how they intersect, and where my own explorations of illness narratives may fall.

Narrative Medicine vs. Medical Humanities

Medical Humanities is “an interdisciplinary field of humanities (literature, philosophy, ethics, history and religion), social science (anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, sociology), and the arts (literature, theater, film, and visual arts) and their application to medical education and practice.”

Narrative Medicine “fortifies clinical practice with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness.”

Illness Narratives, as I define them, are “expressions about or around the experience of being ill.”

Loosely based on these definitions and largely based on my engagement with both fields, I’ve illustrated here my understanding of how these fields are related. There are overlaps, but there also exclusives. These evolving fields are not static but rather dynamic, shifting with the contributions of each individual.

What I’ve realized is that in the end, my study of illness narratives is not entrapped by these indefinite definitions. I can escape the boundaries of these words and instead find meaning in the margins. This isn’t an entirely satisfying conclusion, but I’m content with the realization that, for now, it is still in the works.


Filed under Narrative Medicine Research

2 responses to “Illness Narratives, Medical Humanities, and Narrative Medicine

  1. Hi Trisha,

    I’ve been reading a blog that I think you might like that directly relates to your project. She has titled it, “I’m 25 and my Boobs are Trying to Kill Me.” It’s about her experiences in battling breast cancer. Not only is she a great writer anyway, but she uses her blog as a journal to discuss her illness and her recovery. It’s very intriging, and it also made me think of you and your project. Her website is

    Best wishes,

    • Thanks for sharing this with me, Allison! Her blog is definitely an interesting expression of breast cancer. You’re right: her writing is powerful and she provides valuable insight into her experiences.


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