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To See the Suffering

Charon, Rita MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001989
Invited Commentaries

The author notes the impressive growth in medical humanities programs, scholarly journals, textbooks, and national and international conferences as well as the convening of two recent national forums or boards addressing the potential of the humanities and the arts to improve medical practice. She also notes that the field of medical humanities seems to have shifted from addressing topics on the margins of medical education to equipping students with the foundational skills required for effective doctoring. This Invited Commentary proposes a number of personal, relational, and interpretive consequences to rigorous training in the humanities or the arts that might lead to improvement in the skills of doctoring. Where else but in hospitals with very ill patients and very young doctors who care for them are such skills needed the most? The author suggests that to see the suffering might be what the humanities in medicine are for, and that those who become capable of seeing the suffering around them in medical practice both experience the cost of countenancing the full burden of illness and death and, simultaneously, comprehend with clarity the worth of this thing, this life.

R. Charon is professor, Department of Medicine, and executive director, Program in Narrative Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York; ORCID:

Funding/Support: An R25 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL108014) supported part of the time of the author.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Rita Charon, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, 630 W. 168th St., PH 9-East, Room 105, New York, NY 10032; telephone: (212) 305-4942; e-mail:

© 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges