VP&S Electives and Seminars

Narrative Medicine Required Seminars for First-Year Medical Students

Narrative Medicine is medicine practiced with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, interpret, and honor the stories of illness. This competence lets doctors imagine and enter patients’ worlds, represent complex events or situations so as to understand them, and reflect on their own experiences in caring for the sick. The Narrative Medicine Seminars in FCM II offer graduate-level training in multiple aspects of narrative competence.

All first-year medical students at Columbia are required to complete an intensive half semester seminar in the humanities. Each year, the medical students select among the 12-15 concurrent humanities seminars offered. Typically, the catalog includes seminars in literary studies, narrative writing, history of medicine, ethics, visual arts, religious studies, and alternative medicine.

Courses Offered in Spring 2020

Poetry: Close Readings and Craft | Owen Lewis, MD

Loss, love, illness, and healing—contemporary poetry gives us a remarkable range of expression. Reading Hirsch or Tretheway, Hayes, Diaz, or Kasischke, powerful voices move us. How do they do it? How can we make our own writing more compelling? Close reading is essential for good writing, so we will begin each session with a detailed examination of several poems, drawn mostly from contemporary writing. Readings will to give us multiple models of writing. The essential questions we will be asking: how the author’s voice is represented on the page and what techniques are used to shape the reader’s experience. Elements of contemporary poetic craft will be highlighted: line length, line break and enjambment, compression, pacing, the lyric and the narrative, levels of diction, stanzaic organizations, and the use of metaphor. There will be some in-class writing and students’ work will be workshopped. Strategies of revision will be discussed—is the process one of “correcting” the poem, or one of “re-envisioning?”

Owen Lewis, MD, is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He is the recipient of the 2016 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine (U.K.) and the 2016 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize from the New England Poetry Club and a finalist for the 2017 Pablo Neruda Award. He is the author of Marriage Map, best man, Sometimes Full of Daylight, March in San Miguel, and Field Light (May 1, 2020.)

The City of the Hospital: The Medical Student as Writer | David Hellerstein, MD

The purpose of this class is to develop skills in writing about experiences of becoming a doctor. William Carlos Williams, in his Autobiography, wrote of the “city of the hospital.” In the course of his/her training, the medical student is immersed in a truly miraculous city—from the medical school lecture hall to the scientific laboratory to the wards and clinics of the hospital itself. These experiences provide a unique opportunity to observe the city of modern medicine in all its triumphs, complexities, and contradictions. The goal of this workshop will be to help students develop skills to write about their training experiences, and to mold their observations into finished essays. The primary focus will be on "creative nonfiction" writing approaches. There will be a variety of readings of works by doctor-writers and other writers, in-class exercises, and assignments. Participants will be encouraged to keep a journal of their medical school experiences. Outside of class assignment time will amount to around 2-3 hours per week. Previous writing experience not required.

Dr. David Hellerstein is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia, a research psychiatrist at the NY State Psychiatric Institute, where he is director of the Depression Evaluation Service, and a practicing clinician. Hellerstein is author of books including Battles of Life and Death (essays), A Family of Doctors (memoir), and Heal Your Brain (nonfiction). His writing has appeared in the NY Times, Harper’s, Esquire, North American Review, and The Huffington Post, and has been awarded the Pushcart Prize best essay award.

The Philosophy of Death | Craig Irvine, PhD

In a sense, all philosophy is a meditation on death. One cannot ask the fundamental questions—what is the meaning of Being (ontology)? How ought we to live (ethics)? How do we know the True (epistemology)? What is the nature of Beauty (aesthetics)?—without confronting one’s mortality. Indeed, to face death is the beginning of wisdom. Of course, facing death, eyes wide open, is not an easy task. In this class, we will be guided by works of philosophy and literature that bring us face-to-face with death, from Plato to Tolstoy to Camus and beyond.

Craig Irvine, PhD, is a founder and Academic Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine and Director of the Master's Program in Narrative Medicine. He holds his PhD in Philosophy. For almost 20 years, he has been designing and teaching cultural competency, ethics, Narrative Medicine, and Humanities and Medicine curricula for health professionals. He has over 20 years of experience researching the history of philosophy, phenomenology, and narrative ethics.

Movement as Story: an Exploration of Dance and the Spectrum of Physical Narrative | David Leventhal

Watch this short video to see the program in action:

Narratives are formed explicitly and implicitly as the body moves through space and time. In this four-session studio-based course, students learn to observe, interpret and create movement vocabulary as dance artists. These sessions are participatory in nature and will help students practice observing the world as dancers and choreographers do, while learning how to relate this artistic skill building to general medical practice. No prior dance experience is required for this course.

To supplement their individual experience and explore the concepts of dance practice in a patient population, students will also engage in a case study of the internationally-acclaimed Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) program in which people with Parkinson’s are empowered to explore movement and music in ways that are refreshing, enjoyable, stimulating, and creative. By participating in a live Dance for PD class, students will see how the elements of movement vocabulary and exploration serve and benefit dancers at all levels of the physical spectrum, and provide a sense of self-efficacy, skill, and well-being to people living with Parkinson's.

David Leventhal has performed with the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) from 1997-2011, appearing in principal roles in some of Mark Morris' most acclaimed works. He received a Bessie (New York Dance and Performance Award) for his performing career with Mark Morris. David is Program Director and one of the founding teachers of MMDG's Dance for PD® program, a collaboration with the Brooklyn Parkinson Group that offers weekly classes for people with Parkinson's at the Mark Morris Dance Center and fosters similar classes in more than 250 communities in 25 countries around the world, and presents regular training workshops for teachers interested in leading Dance for PD® classes. He received the 2016 World Parkinson Congress Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Parkinson's community and is the co-recipient of the Alan Bonander Humanitarian Award for his efforts to make the Dance for PD® program widely available. He has written and lectured extensively about the program. ​David has co-produced three volumes of a successful At Home DVD series for the program and has been instrumental in initiating and designing innovative projects involving live streaming and Moving Through Glass, a dance-based Google Glass App for people with Parkinson's. He serves on the boards of the Davis Phinney Foundation and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center​'s Arts and Humanities Program.

The Art of Paying Attention | Riva Blumenfeld

Modern and contemporary works of art demand attention; they reward by encouraging examination of the parameters (and boundaries) of sight, analysis, and even the definition of art itself. How do we understand such works? What do they tell us about our own mechanisms of seeing/listening/understanding? In this course, we will pay attention to works of art in MoMA’s collection and to each other. In doing so we will investigate what it means to “see” an image or object, and explore the benefits of multiple modes of engagement and observation. Through close looking and group discussion, students will enhance their observation, critical thinking, and communication skills. Students will be required to actively participate in group discussions and activities. No prior knowledge of art is necessary.

Since 2003, Riva Blumenfeld has been an art educator at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and Guggenheim Museums focusing on school, family, and access groups. Besides the museums, Riva leads classes for the 92ndStreet Y and conducts art tours for groups (not only in NYC, but also in Miami, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Venice, Italy). Teaching has been a new direction for Riva, previously she owned a gallery in Soho that specialized in contemporary American art and distributed prints by well-known artists such as William Kentridge, Inka Essenhigh, Lesley Dill, Amy Sillman, Kara Walker, and Lee Bontecou. She served on the Board of the Lower Eastside Printshop, an organization that offers many opportunities for artists to learn and improve their printmaking skills, and was Chair of ArtTable in New York CitySoho—an advocacy, membership group for professional women in the visual arts.

Works of Art as a Way of Knowing | Rika Burnham

In this class, we propose that the relationship between art and medicine is rich and multifaceted. Students engage in dialogues about masterpieces of the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, opening up a complex array of subtexts and interpretive possibilities. Discussing one masterpiece at a time, participants develop appreciation for works of art and contemplate how we understand them. As a class, we think broadly and deeply about experiences with works of art—what we can know and what we cannot, and relevance within the study and practice of medicine.

Rika Burnham is Head of Education at The Frick Collection. She teaches Works of Art and Wide Awakeness to the World in the Program of Narrative Medicine, Columbia University. Previously, she was a museum educator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lecturer at Teachers College, Columbia University. Publications include Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience (Getty) and a catalogue essay in Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors (Metropolitan Museum). Ms. Burnham earned a degree in art history from Harvard University and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2014.

Comic-book Storytelling Workshop | Ben Schwartz, MD

This workshop will give students the opportunity to explore the often-overlooked medium of comics and develop valuable storytelling skills. Students will learn how comics express narratives that neither prose nor pictures could convey alone. They will discover that they can translate many of these techniques to the floors and wards, where complex stories are often told with more than just words.

Selected readings and in-class exercises will focus on comic storytelling fundamentals such as clarity, pacing, and mood. Basic instruction on figure drawing, perspective and abstraction/caricature will also be offered, but no previous visual arts experience will be necessary for the course. Students will be given time during class to complete a final project: a short comic book on the topic of their choosing.

Benjamin Schwartz is a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine and an Assistant Professor of Medicine (in Surgery) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, working with both the Departments of Surgery and Medicine on educational material geared towards patients, students and teachers. He received his BA and MD from Columbia University.

Dreams and the Unconscious | Adele Tutter, MD, PhD

We have always sought to understand our dreams: vessels for the wishes, fears, impulses, motivations, inhibitions, and conflicts that we ordinarily prefer to keep out of everyday awareness. In this elective, we will learn about psychoanalytic theories that understand the dream as the disguised expression of unconscious material that becomes newly accessible through interpretation. We will also explore other types of ways to elucidate unconscious material, including jokes, “Freudian” slips, and certain works of art. While not mandatory, it is hoped that students will come prepared to discuss their own dreams. The instructor will make every effort to create an environment conducive to discussing the personal material that tends to surface in dreams.

Adele Tutter, MD, PhD, is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and faculty, Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. Her interdisciplinary scholarship focuses largely on the interface of culture and psychoanalysis and the arts, and has been honored by the Leibert, Hartmann, CORST, Menninger, and Ticho Prizes. She is author of Dream House: An Intimate Portrait of the Philip Johnson Glass House, co-editor, with Léon Wurmser, of Grief and its Transcendence: Memory, Identity, Creativity, and editor of The Muse: Psychoanalytic Explorations of Creative Inspiration. A regular contributor of art criticism to the Brooklyn Rail, she is in private practice in Manhattan.

Photography and Visual Storytelling | Gail Albert Halaban, MFA

How do we begin to look at something unfamiliar? When we approach a picture, what questions do we ask? In this class, students will use photography to explore the world. Students will master the elements of art and the principles of design that lay the foundation for building story and meaning with pictures. Students will develop skills to become more aware of how they see and photograph. The class will examine photography’s dual claims to be objective documentation and personal expression. What is the role of the author in making a photograph? Through gallery visits and photographic assignments, participants will learn to use photography as a tool for engagement, allowing them to build new connections with the world while making art. All levels of photographic skills are welcome. Workload will include weekly photographic assignments culminating in a final portfolio.

Gail Albert Halaban holds an MFA from Yale University and is represented by the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York as well as galleries in Paris, Los Angeles, Istanbul, and Atlanta. She has photographed for many international publications including the New Yorker and the New York Times, and has published two monographs: Out My Window, and Vis-à-Vis.

Life Stories of Anatomic Donors: An Obituary Writing Workshop | Aubrie-Ann Jones

This course is for students craving to interview real people in the setting of real stakes. In this seminar, students are guided through the process of researching and writing a newspaper-style obituary of a recent donor to Columbia's anatomy lab. Through interviewing the anatomy donor's friends and family, students will develop practical communication and interpretation skills that are crucial to effective doctoring. Class time is devoted to close readings of example obituaries, discussion of ethical issues, and workshop-style analysis of other students' writing.

Aubrie-Ann Jones is a graduate of Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine Master's program. She has taught at Rutgers University in the Doctorate in Social Work program, and is currently leading Narrative Medicine workshops with residents and fellows at NYU Langone Medical Center. She is an editor at The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine and a member of Children of Bellevue’s Board of Directors. Aubrie also holds a BA in Anthropology from Fordham University and an MFA in Fiction from The New School.

Making Meaning: Using Emotion to Foster Relationships Essential to the Practice of Medicine | Jane Bogart, EdD, MCHES

Personal relationships are an inextricable aspect of practicing medicine, and many physicians cite relationships with patients and colleagues as what makes their work meaningful. These relationships are both based on and enriched by our ability to perceive, understand, and manage emotions, and to use emotions to facilitate thought and action (what some call “emotional intelligence”). Indeed, research has demonstrated that physicians who are advanced in some or all of these components are more likely to have higher job satisfaction, reduced burnout, and improved clinical performance. The objective of this course is to develop awareness of one’s own emotions in a way that will guide future actions and thoughts, particularly in the realm of medical relationships. During the course sessions, students will engage in experiential activities to explore empathy, reframing, navigating adversity (e.g., coping and resilience), balance, gratitude, connection and belonging, and transcendence (e.g., awe). The activities will be framed around case vignettes of medical students and physicians facing challenging personal interactions, so that course participants will be equipped to apply insights to their own work and practice.

Jane Bogart, EdD, is the Director of the Center for Student Wellness at CUIMC and an Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Bogart also taught at Teachers College, Columbia University, from which she earned both Master's and Doctoral degrees in Health and Behavior Studies. She has appeared as a "Sexpert" on MTV’s The First National Sex Quiz and you can find her "Howcast" videos about Understanding STIs on YouTube. Her first book, Sexploration: The Ultimate Guide to Feeling Truly Great in Bed (Penguin, 2006) was reviewed positively by both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

Short Fiction Workshop | Joseph Eveld, MS, MFA

This course will introduce its participants to the process of generating creative ideas and writing and workshopping fiction, highlighting the philosophy that no great writing is done alone. Through reading and critiquing successful published pieces, students will be introduced to elements of craft, and hopefully inspired, before then having the opportunity to practice craft techniques with writing prompts/exercises. Students will then create a 4-5 page draft of a short story as a final project (which can be generated from the writing produced in the writing prompts, if so chosen) that will be workshopped briefly by the group. The goal of this experience is to give students insight to their own creative process and an introduction to the tools which writers use to construct stories that move and engage readers.

Joseph Eveld, MS, MFA, is a graduate of the Narrative Medicine program, as well as the creative writing MFA at Boston University, where he was a Robert Pinksy Fellow and taught fiction at the Boston Arts Academy. His poetry has been featured in the Intercollegiate Poetry Festival in Boston and published in the Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. His short story “If Your Uncle Says Something Crazy” was a finalist for Glimmer Train Magazine’s Short Story Award for New Writers. He has taught as Faculty Associate for the MS in Narrative Medicine program and currently teaches Writing Creatively for the Narrative Medicine Certificate of Professional Achievement. He is also working on his first novel.

Reporting Live from NYP: Journalistic Writing for Doctors | Majorie Korn

At the basis of all journalism—a 10,000-word New Yorker profile, updates on Congressional activity, breaking news about scientific advances—even coverage of a high school football game—is storytelling. It’s about things that matter to people, or explaining why it should matter to them. And stories around medicine are particularly compelling and important. Every day, major discussions about medicine ripple through doctors’ offices, newspapers, government policy shops, and American homes. And for every story, there are groups of people that it will speak to—maternity care, opioid addiction, Medicaid expansion, equal access for the LGBTQ+ community. This workshop intends to view medicine through the lens of journalism, and show how that can help physicians connect with patients. Assignments will include readings, online videos, in-class writing assignments, and one final story. It will equate to about two hours of work per week. We will hear from experts in the field, and make one newsroom visit. Participants will leave with a story that is ready to pitch and publish. Previous writing experience not required.

Marjorie Korn is a senior editor at Men's Journal covering health, science, nutrition and more. She is an award-winning journalist who has been published in the Associated Press, Sunday Times (UK), Dallas Morning News, GQ, and more. She is a freelance book editor and graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature and Music | Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, PhD

This course is for students interested in the following questions: How might we cultivate ethical listening practices in a culture of excessive talk? How might we be better audiences for each other? In this seminar, we will study select African American literary and musical texts to ground our listening work in the field and to help us explore these questions together. Students will develop a range of listening practices and skills that are crucial to effective doctoring and care giving. Class time is devoted to close reading, close listening, and discussion of poetry, short stories, and excerpts from longer texts.

Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, Professor and Director of the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College Columbia University earned her PhD and BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her MA from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining Teachers College, Dr. Furlonge served as Director of Teaching and Learning at the Holderness School, where she facilitated professional learning for faculty and developed LEARNS, a framework for formative professional learning. She has taught English and served as English Department Chair and Director of Diversity at several independent schools, including St. Andrew's School (Delaware), The Lawrenceville School, and Princeton Day School. Dr. Furlonge is the author of Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature, published by the University of Iowa Press. Her book demonstrates listening as an interpretive and civic act that leads to deeper engagement with others. Dr. Furlonge has previously served on the boards of People and Stories/Gente y Cuentos and Village Charter School in Trenton, NJ. Currently, Dr. Furlonge’s research examines the intersections between listening, cognitive neuroscience, social justice, and school leadership. She lives in Yonkers, NY, with her spouse and their three children.

Attending to Movies: Affect and Insight / Maura Speigel, PhD

“We do not know what we see, but rather the opposite is true: we see what we know.”—Yvette Biro

Objectives for this course include adding film-viewing to your strategies for increasing reflective practice, observational skills, and structural competence. Through discussion and short reflective writing, we will develop greater awareness of how movies work on us, the density and idiosyncrasy of our responses, which can prove relevant to responses in clinical encounters. Close reading of narrative films will engage us in themes such as stigma, “sexuation,” the loneliness of the dying, panic and consolation, relatedness and relationally. Attention will be given to fundamentals of cinematic form. Films will be selected from among the work of Barry Jenkins, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Pedro Almodovar, Mike Mills, Tamara Jenkins, Terrence Malick, Todd Haynes, and others. Students enrolled in this seminar will be asked to screen films prior to the meeting of the seminar. The films selected will be made easily available for viewing. Class preparation will be approximately two hours per week: screening the assigned film and completing a ten-minute writing exercise.

Maura Spiegel, PhD, teaches fiction and film in the Department of English at Columbia University and was recently editor-in-chief of the journal Literature and Medicine. She is co-author of The Grim Reader: Writings on Death, Dying and Living On. Her scholarly interests include study of the affective and cognitive dimensions of the film-viewing experience. She is a member of the Core Faculty of the Program in Narrative Medicine.

Narrative Medicine Elective for Fourth-Year Medical Students

Director Rita Charon and faculty of the Program in Narrative Medicine offer a month-long intensive fourth-year elective in Narrative Medicine in February. Close reading, writing fiction, and reflective writing develop narrative and literary skills that end up adding to one’s clinical effectiveness. In our Narrative Medicine Immersion month over the past several years, we have gathered twelve fourth-year students from VP&S and from visiting medical schools for intensive craft and interpretive training, with the conceptual framework in mind that strengthening the skills of representation is a powerful means toward strengthening the skills of attention in clinical work. On the basis of student evaluations, the quality of written work produced, and projects that students undertake in the years following the intensive narrative training, the elective has demonstrated a capacity to target and improve these specific narrative competencies toward attentive and effective patient care.

The elective will include the following 5 parts:

Short Fiction Workshop

This course will introduce its participants to the creative process of generating creative ideas and writing and workshopping fiction, highlighting the philosophy that no great writing is done alone. Through reading and critiquing successful published pieces, students will be introduced to the craft, and hopefully inspired, before then having the opportunity to experiment creatively with writing exercises. These will then be used to craft a 4-6 page draft of a short story as a final project which will be workshopped briefly by the group. The goal of this experience is to give the writer insight to their own creative process, while honing the skills that allow them to produce writing that is authentically their own, but uses the nuance of craft to move and inspire readers.

Joseph Eveld, MS, MFA, is a graduate of the Narrative Medicine program, as well as the creative writing program at Boston University, where he was a Robert Pinksy Fellow and taught fiction writing at the Boston Arts Academy. His poetry has been featured in the Intercollegiate Poetry Festival in Boston, as well as published in the Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. His short story “If Your Uncle Says Something Crazy” was a finalist for Glimmer Train Magazine’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Most recently, he was a faculty associate in Applied Writing for the Narrative Medicine Masters, and is currently working on his first novel.

Contemporary Fiction

This seminar's goal is to strengthen the skills of close reading—that kind of reading in which every word counts. We will pay attention to the narrative features of the novels, as well as to their plots—genre, metaphor, voice, allusions, narrative strategies, temporal structure, and the like. We will really immerse ourselves in the narrative worlds offered by the fiction-writers, getting some sense of the power of our imaginations and capacity to enter alien worlds. We will read a novel or a short story each week, including on the first meeting, and a couple of theoretical essays about reading and what reading and writing have to do with medicine.

During our sessions, we will examine the stories together and will do some writing in class in response to the texts. Most weeks, I will bring some additional texts, mostly short poems, to work on as warm-up close reading. Throughout the month, we will be noticing how close reading alters what happens in clinical care, both in clinician-patient relationships and among colleagues on health care teams. We may be joined on some weeks by one or two graduate students in the School of Journalism who are specializing in Science and Medicine journalism.

Rita Charon, MD, PhD, is a general internist and a literary scholar, focusing on the works of Henry James. Dr. Charon is inaugural Chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics at Columbia and the originator of the field of Narrative Medicine. She is author of Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness, co-author of The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine, and co-editor of Psychoanalysis and Narrative Medicine and Stories Matter: The Role of Narrative in Medical Ethics. The Doctor’s Narrative: Identities & Interfaces.

Comics & Visual Storytelling Workshop

What can aspiring doctors learn from comics and graphic novels? In this class, we will exercise our storytelling muscles using a format that puts a premium on clarity and efficiency. We will explore the connection between words and pictures and relate it to the balance between objective and subjective information that takes place daily on the wards. Selected readings and in-class exercises will focus on comic storytelling fundamentals such as clarity, pacing, mood, and technique. Basic instruction on figure drawing, perspective and abstraction/caricature will also be offered, but no previous visual arts experience will be necessary for the course. Each student will complete a two-page comic story as a final project.

Benjamin Schwartz, MD is a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine and an Assistant Professor of Medicine (in Surgery) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, working with both the Departments of Surgery and Medicine on educational material geared towards patients, students, and teachers. He received his BA and MD from Columbia University.

The Doctor's Narrative: Identities and Interfaces

Clinical education encourages you to develop a sense of who you are as a doctor-in-training and who is the person for whom you are caring as a patient. There are times at which you might feel as if there are four identities in the room: you, you as a doctor, the patient, and the person who is the patient. Now, on the verge of the conferral of your MD degree, we will examine closely these identities and their narratives. In particular, we will focus on the point of contact between these identities in the clinical encounter and the complex set of emotions that may come up in these meaningful interfaces. We will review basic psychoanalytic principles: wishes, fears, defenses, transference, and countertransference—and how they help us to reflect on our experience of becoming doctors. We will use narratives from works of fiction, non-fiction, and from our own experience.

Jonathan Amiel, MD, is the Senior Associate Dean for Curricular Affairs at VP&S. He has a strong interest in medical education and humanism in medicine and he works closely with the AAMC and the Gold Humanism Honor Society. He is particularly delighted to teach part of the narrative medicine course in which he took part as a fourth-year VP&S student.

Beethoven's String Quartets

This seminar will focus on listening to and analyzing Ludwig van Beethoven’s string quartets, a group of compositions widely regarded as a monument of artistic achievement in classical music. Seminar sessions will focus on attentive listening with an emphasis on musical elements and form, incorporating ear training, and group exercises. Topics of discussion will include the historical context of the compositions, the relationship between artistic effort and personal experience, and the group dynamics at play in music making in general and the quartet in particular. Assignments will include ear training exercises and reflective responses to musical excerpts.

Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, MS, is a gastroenterologist, epidemiologist, and cellist with an undergraduate degree in music. He is the Director of Clinical Research at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University and a member of the St. Thomas Orchestra.

Narrative and Social Medicine Scholarly Project Track

Narrative Medicine is one of six research tracks available to students at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons for the Scholarly Project Program. Rita Charon, MD, PhD, is the director of the Narrative and Social Medicine track.

The Narrative and Social Medicine Track is the site for projects in humanities, ethics, creative writing, visual arts, and narrative studies broadly defined. It is the site for social medicine projects involving observations or interviews with patients and professionals, health policy, health economics, social activism, and health care justice. We are interested in the lived experiences of persons in health care, including patients and families, professionals, and students. The Track is forming a clearing for students, scholars, and practitioners of many disciplines to unite to learn together and to network with faculty and students who share interests.

All aspects of humanities, the arts, qualitative social sciences, and language studies are included in this track, for example projects in literature, history, ethics, anthropology, health economics, health management, fine arts, cinema, and performance arts as they pertain to illness or health care. The areas of potential study are vast and will engage mentors and supervisors for students’ projects from many units of the university, including the medical school, the school of public health, the school of the arts, arts and sciences, the school of journalism, the law school, and the business school. We will encourage collaboration with faculty and students from all professional schools at CUIMC toward increasing the effectiveness of health care teams.

The Track will encourage assertively the importance of publication or presentation of results of the Scholarly Projects. The Track Director and individual mentors are charged to review with students potential journals to which to submit written Capstones. They will help students to identify academic conferences to which abstracts of work accomplished in the Scholarly Project can be submitted. It is hoped that these Scholarly Projects contribute to the students' forward trajectory in medicine and act as a catapult in establishing the students as serious scholars/researchers in their field of study.

Some recent projects include:

  • A narrative inquiry of a group of 24 ICU patients who “survived due to family wishes only.” These patients were given grim prognoses by ICU physicians, yet their families chose to continue aggressive treatment, and the patients survived to return home. This student will perform chart reviews and interviews with families to learn about the motives for and outcomes of the choice to continue care. Mentor Dr. Agarwal, MICU
  • A cross-cultural study of East/West medical beliefs undertaken by a student raised in an Eastern culture that holds beliefs at odds with prevailing Western medical traditions. The student seeks to find bridging or integrative concepts and practices between East and West medicine. The mentors include a professor of comparative religion and a Buddhist-trained psychoanalyst.
  • A student with a background in playwrighting is writing a play called “Rapture,” depicting a ghostly, meditative confrontation with what might lie beyond life. Inspired by the student’s experiences in anatomy and MCY, the play examines themes of desolation, isolation, darker impulses, ghosts of memory, and existentialism. Mentor Catherine Rogers, playwright, actor, and faculty in the Narrative Medicine Program.
  • In "The Skyrocketing Prices of Drugs," a student will research the crush of factors leading to the exorbitant rise in prescription drug prices in the U.S. The student will undertake a literature review and conduct interviews with pharmaceutical industry personnel. Mentor Dr. Robert Sideli

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