Purpose: To learn what medical students derive from training in humanities, social sciences, and the arts in a narrative medicine curriculum and to explore narrative medicine’s framework as it relates to students’ professional development.
Method: On completion of required intensive, half-semester narrative medicine seminars in 2010, 130 second-year medical students at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons participated in focus group discussions of their experiences. Focus group transcriptions were submitted to close iterative reading by a team who performed a grounded-theory-guided content analysis, generating a list of codes into which statements were sorted to develop overarching themes. Provisional interpretations emerged from the close and repeated readings, suggesting a fresh conceptual understanding of how and through what avenues such education achieves its goals in clinical training.
Results: Students’ comments articulated the known features of narrative medicine—attention, representation, and affiliation—and endorsed all three as being valuable to professional identity development. They spoke of the salience of their work in narrative medicine to medicine and medical education and its dividends of critical thinking, reflection, and pleasure. Critiques constituted a small percentage of the statements in each category.
Conclusions: Students report that narrative medicine seminars support complex interior, interpersonal, perceptual, and expressive capacities. Students’ lived experiences confirm some expectations of narrative medicine curricular planners while exposing fresh effects of such work to view.