Learning to Listen

The New York Times (New York, NY), December 29, 2009


Dr. Rita Charon, professor of clinical medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, is well aware of the power of storytelling. She has a Ph.D. in English — training that changed her medical practice.

Through literature, she learned how stories are built and told, and translated that to listening to, and better understanding, patients. She could let them tell their own stories without interruptions and see how people described their symptoms as part of the larger story of their life.

Dr. Charon had spent several years teaching workshops on developing “narrative competence,” but she feared participants weren’t prepared enough to return to their schools to start programs. There was no comprehensive training in how to practice it.

She proposed something new to Columbia: a Master of Science in narrative medicine. The one-year program — two if pursued part time — began this fall at its School of Continuing Education.


Subjects Covered: education, healing, medicine

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