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Medical Narratives: Healing and Clarifying


Medicine today is making a push to be more diverse, more humanistic, and more empathetic. Medical students and physicians are encouraged to write and work through their emotions to avoid burnout. Patients are sharing their stories to raise awareness for the reality of the medical field, find a community, and process the mental and emotional damage associated with physical illness. I set out to compile and examine patient and physician narratives from many types of people to better understand the field I am entering, prepare my classmates, and help us all be more aware of the empathy and humanity necessary in the medical field.

Physician Narratives


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Patient Narratives

Separate for women and such

Reading List

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

    • Learn the exploitation and history behind HeLa cells and explore the ethical dilemmas in​ medical research.

  • Hippocratic Writings 

    • Explore one of the earliest summations of the medical field and consider how this differs from medicine today

  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

    • Learn about the life and ​biology of a snail from the perspective of a chronically ill woman who is confined to her bed with an untreatable disease

  • Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso

    • At 21 years old, Sarah Manguso was diagnosed with a neural autoimmune disease that altered her life forever. This memoir recounts the grueling suffering she underwent and the mental strain of relapses and drug addiction

  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

    • A potent physician narrative where Dr. Gawande recounts interactions with his patients and explores his own role as family member to his father​

assignments and enrichment

If you are interested in healthcare, or generally just learning how to understand  other people better, I highly recommend looking at some of the sources compiled here. I provided some discussion questions that can be the basis of an assignment or thoughtful discussion, and I will update this page accordingly as I work to include these ideas in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Discussion Questions: 

1) What aspects of this narrative strike you as surprising, good, or unfair? 

2) How are the actions in this narrative promoting benevolence or malevolence?

3) How could you do better, or encourage your peers to do better?

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Discussion Questions: 

4) Are the changes you want to implement personal, or systematic?

5) How do we balance training medical personnel receive and stepping back to listen to patients without imposing their knowledge?

6) How did these narratives make you feel?

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