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Academia and the Profession |

Literature and Medicine: Contributions to Clinical Practice

Rita Charon, MD; Joanne Trautmann Banks, PhD; Julia E. Connelly, MD; Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, PhD; Kathryn Montgomery Hunter, PhD; Anne Hudson Jones, PhD; Martha Montello, PhD; and Suzanne Poirer, PhD
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From College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, New York. The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania. University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia. Northwestern University Medical School and the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois. University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas. Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Requests for Reprints: Rita Charon, MD, Department of Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, 622 West 168th Street, PH 9E, New York, NY 10032. Grant Support: In part by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Faculty Scholar Award in General Internal Medicine (1989-1992; grant no. Kaiser CU50492001) awarded to Dr. Charon and the Kaiser Narrative-in-Medicine Circle, during whose meetings this paper was conceptualized and written.


Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1995;122(8):599-606. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-122-8-199504150-00008
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Introduced to U.S. medical schools in 1972, the field of literature and medicine contributes methods and texts that help physicians develop skills in the human dimensions of medical practice. Five broad goals are met by including the study of literature in medical education: 1) Literary accounts of illness can teach physicians concrete and powerful lessons about the lives of sick people; 2) great works of fiction about medicine enable physicians to recognize the power and implications of what they do; 3) through the study of narrative, the physician can better understand patients' stories of sickness and his or her own personal stake in medical practice; 4) literary study contributes to physicians' expertise in narrative ethics; and 5) literary theory offers new perspectives on the work and the genres of medicine. Particular texts and methods have been found to be well suited to the fulfillment of each of these goals. Chosen from the traditional literary canon and from among the works of contemporary and culturally diverse writers, novels, short stories, poetry, and drama can convey both the concrete particularity and the metaphorical richness of the predicaments of sick people and the challenges and rewards offered to their physicians. In more than 20 years of teaching literature to medical students and physicians, practitioners of literature and medicine have clarified its conceptual frameworks and have identified the means by which its studies strengthen the human competencies of doctoring, which are a central feature of the art of medicine.

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