Narrative Medicine StudioLab

A home for creators on campus

Calling all students and faculty involved in the arts and humanities in the CUIMC community! You're invited to join the Narrative Medicine StudioLab, a home for those on campus engaged in creative work in the arts and/or scholarship in the humanities. Together, we discover the importance of the intersections between clinical work and humanities & the arts. The StudioLab is your place to share work, design projects, discover collaborators, learn about creative events and activities of interest, and find support from like-minded people.

We call it a StudioLab because it is a place to do and see works-in-the-making and a place to probe and document the consequences of doing such work in clinical settings. As we grow, the StudioLab hopes to do two things in tandem. We want to develop original creative projects among the faculty and student members of the StudioLab. We also want to design and support research studies that examine the outcomes of bringing high-level work in the arts, humanities, and qualitative social science into clinical settings and into health professions education and training programs.

Our monthly meet-ups feature open-dialogue presentations by guest artists and scholars discussing their work. Our guests in summer/fall of 2020 included oral historian Mary Marshall Clark describing her COVID interview project, a conversation among 6 Columbia faculty and students about their project in the ethics of writing about patients by clinicians, a sculptor of very large-scale metal pieces that are provocatively placed in front of well-chosen corporate headquarters, and an Italian painter/actor taking us through his process of portraiture.

Our StudioLab membership includes faculty in several of the CUIMC schools, students from many schools and years, and interns, residents, and fellows in the midst of their professional training. Students have identified mentors, and mentors have found students to join their projects. Already, StudioLab has helped to connect several groups on specific projects—one group is learning how one gets permission to film or photograph scenes in CUIMC for internal use; another group is working with a family physician on a Photo-Voice project interviewing clinical students displaced by COVID-19.

Direct from the StudioLab

Most recently, Ofole Mgbako, published a powerful piece in The New Yorker on a doctor-patient relationship and the power poetry can bring to care, which was crafted in the StudioLab Journalism Workshop lead by professor and journalist Stephen Fried.

More than any medicine, the poems seemed to blunt Jim’s pain—they were his most effective treatment.

You can read the full essay here: "A Doctor, A Patient, and Their Poetry" by Ofole Mgbako.

Ofole Mgbako, in his own words: "I am a physician advocate for communities of color and the LGBTQ community, particularly those living with HIV. I am an internal medicine doctor and infectious disease specialist. I have held multiple leadership positions during medical school, internal medicine residency as chief resident, and now lead out infectious disease group at Bellevue Hospital. I have a long track record of community service and volunteer work focused on justice in healthcare and vulnerable communities. I have traveled extensively (South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, etc.) working in both clinical and public health contexts. I am a teacher, writer, and public speaker. My career is devoted to speaking directly to the impact of racism and homophobia in healthcare, and supporting health equity."

NM StudioLab provides an increasing number of on-going workshops and courses:

  1. Photography workshop—continuation of the VP&S 1st year Narrative Medicine Seminar that has been opened to additional StudioLab members. Taught by photographer Gail Albert Halaban
  2. Poetry workshop—also a continuation of the VP&S 1st year Narrative Medicine Seminar with additional members. Taught by poet and child psychoanalyst Owen Lewis
  3. Narrative Medicine Journalism Workshop—intensive semester-long training for health care students and professionals committed to writing about medicine in the public media. An application process opens each July to select the next class of students for this workshop; after finishing the training, members join the alumni group which holds regular meetings to continue to support writing, editing, publishing and medical journalism. Taught by award-winning journalist and author Stephen Fried, on faculty at Columbia and Penn.
  4. Prose-Writing Workshop—new workshop combining fiction-writing with personal essay-writing workshop. Taught by novelist Nellie Hermann, Lecturer in Medical Humanities and Ethics, author of two acclaimed novels, published in The New York Times, New York Review of Books, Glimmer Train, and other venues and journals. Application materials will be distributed soon.
  5. The DrawingBoard - Led by New Yorker cartoonist and VP&S faculty member Benjamin Schwartz, the DrawingBoard is an ongoing forum for those interested in drawing to come together and practice their skills. Biweekly virtual sessions are designed to give CUIMC community members dedicated time to draw together, share work, and learn from each other. Sessions are open to all, regardless of skill level or experience. Those interested in joining can sign up here.

Our contacts are vast with the major museums and cultural institutions in the city, but COVID-19, of course, interrupted our plans for trips to museums, galleries, concerts, theatre, and readings. Some of these are tentatively opening, and we will be taking advantage in the coming semesters of those that ensure safety of visitors.

The StudioLab has a number of academic connections with CUIMC school programs. For example, the NM StudioLab functions as a meeting ground for VP&S students completing their required Scholarly Projects in the Narrative and Social Medicine Concentration Track. (This may develop into an MD/MS degree program in the next few years.) Students from all schools on campus who elect to work on service-learning projects with the Columbia Student Service Corp (CSSC) are encouraged to participate in the StudioLab as a place where interprofessional education and practice are emphasized. Master of Science in Narrative Medicine graduate students are invited to join us, bringing their blend of literary/creative/activist/clinical  training in contact with us all. PhD students in the School of Nursing who are studying qualitative research methods are invited to join the StudioLab to find colleagues committed to understanding the lived experiences of patients and clinicians.

Please join us for collaborating, inspiring, being inspired, and  studying particular arts media and humanities disciplines. We are amazed by the growth already in our StudioLab and thrilled to accept new members to this tribe. Our dreams are open for future ways to support and build creative work among our members. Maybe we need to create stronger connections with the School of the Arts on the Columbia Morningside campus. Maybe we need to find a place to house a maker’s space someplace at CUIMC where people can drop-in for informal arts work. Maybe we need eventually to mature our workshops into credit-bearing curricula for all schools. Let us hear from you what you most would love the StudioLab to create!

To learn more about the StudioLab, please sign up for our mailing list: Join the Email List!

Warmly, Gail Albert Halaban, Ben Schwartz, and Rita Charon

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