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Learning to Listen: Discovering Illness Narratives in Medical Education

With my White Coat Ceremony over and the start of medical school looming in the very near future, it seems inevitable to me that this website will be transformed, just as I will.  While I’m not certain exactly how, I have several ideas about where I hope to go.

The stethoscope presented to us at our White Coat Ceremony reminded me of my original purpose in creating this blog. The stethoscope embodies, both literally and figuratively, one of my favorite components of the practice of medicine: the ability to listen. When I first discovered the genre of illness narratives, I felt compelled to listen keenly to the experiences of those with illness and the variety of ways in which they can be expressed.

But just as a stethoscope alone does not provide a diagnosis, I’ve come to realize that there is more to receiving these narratives than to listen. I write because I believe also in the value of sharing, of moving forward and doing something with what I learn through listening.

As I move into this next phase of my life, I want to rededicate this website to its original purpose of receiving and sharing ideas about illness narratives. But I want to do so from an entirely different perspective: as a medical student studying to become a physician rather than an undergraduate with hopes to enter medicine. And by acknowledging how different these two realms are, I can begin to understand from within just how medicine acknowledges the narratives of the ill.

I’m sure that I will be busy scribbling lecture notes, reading and rereading textbooks, and dissecting the human body. But all the while, as I study the science of medicine, I plan to bear in mind the art of medicine. I hope to applaud but also question and even criticize the ways that we talk about illness and about people in the institution of medical education.

I believe in the power of illness narratives. And, ultimately, in “Humanism in Medicine.”

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