After Rachel Adams’s son was born with Down Syndrome, she became very familiar with hospitals. With attentive care, her son’s health remains good. But she’s noticed how doctors tend to treat the problem in front of them without considering the patient’s larger story. She writes that they fix his tear ducts yet never ask how he’s doing in school or how the family is coping with his treatment.
Rachel Adams is also a Professor of English. She sees an opportunity both to make her discipline more relevant and to increase the quality of patient care by infusing medical practice with humanistic values. By writing and reflecting on their patients, doctors will come to see them as characters in a larger drama. By reading novels, they will become more compassionate listeners.
Columbia already has a program in narrative medicine. It may sound like just one more task for busy clinicians to incorporate, but the theory is that reading and writing will ultimately save them time and improve patient care.