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The Story of Medicine: Writing the Health Sciences and Healing Arts 

Department: Creative Writing                                                 

Instructor: Siloh Radovsky
Instructor's Email: 
Prerequisites: No prerequisites; students should be comfortable reading in English (though are welcome to write in whatever language they prefer for the creative component of our work). Interest in the practice of medicine and/or creative writing is strongly encouraged; however, we will develop the foundations for thinking through narrative medicine together.

Schedule: ZOOM (M/W/F 2:00pm-4:00pm PST)


Course Description

This interdisciplinary course will explore the craft of storytelling, the practice of medicine, and sites at which they merge. We will explore narrative medicine, illness narratives, and contemporary issues surrounding wellbeing and medical practice (including physician burn-out, the mind/body connection, treatment modalities, the experience of illness, and dynamics of the doctor/patient relationship)—all the while cultivating our personal writing practices. How might cultivating attention to the stories of illness, as well as developing the skills to tell your own stories, improve both patient outcomes and quality of life for physicians and practitioners? How does storytelling form a bridge between the science and the art of medicine? We will explore these questions together through encounters with shared texts, dialogue, and probing our own experiences with medicine, culture, health, and illness. By the end of the term, you will have developed tools for thinking through the ethical and social valences of medicine, as well as cultivated a medium through which to express your own experiences as patient, practitioner (whether medical or otherwise), and inhabitant of a body.

Though this course is tailored for students whose passion lies in the health sciences, it would also be relevant to burgeoning writers and students who work primarily in the humanities (particularly those who are interested in philosophy of medicine). We will think about writing as a means of engaging with ourselves and our worlds broadly, and as a tool for expressing and integrating contradictory understandings of self, body, and context. Our readings will encompass narrative non-fiction as well as more experimental approaches to the craft of writing. Readings will include works by Eleni Stecopoulos, Anne Boyer, Anne Fadiman, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, and Oliver Sacks. We will have visiting lecturers who work in both sciences and the humanities. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will have gained familiarity and comfort with the creative writing process through daily practice; students will have begun to develop a sense of creativity and sense of personal aesthetics
  • Students will be able to define narrative medicine and its application
  • Students will be able to identify ethical and cultural concerns within medical practice; they will have gained familiarity with an interdisciplinary and cultural approach to medicine generally
  • Students will be able to identify writers, resources, and disciplines which are personally relevant to their artistic and/or future medical practice

Course Outline

  • Narrative Medicine
    • Definition
    • Application and utility
    • Modalities (in medical institutions and outside of it)
  • Creative Writing
    • Navigating the writing process
    • Form, genre, and style
    • Narrative craft--What makes a story compelling to read?
    • Listening to the voices and stories of others
  • Medicine
    • Cultural, ethical, and historical factors in medical practice
    • Doctor/patient relationship
    • Traditional vs. scientific treatment modalities (and how to apply narrative towards bridging them)

*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.