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.
Spring 2022 Courses
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 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 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. His latest book, Field Light, received a Distinguished Favorite in the 2020 NewYorkBigBook award. Other books include Marriage Map, best man, Sometimes Full of Daylight, and March in San Miguel.
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. His current research focuses on the use of psychedelic drugs for treatment of mood disorders and other psychiatric illnesses. His literary books include Battles of Life and Death (essays), A Family of Doctors (memoir), Heal Your Brain (nonfiction), and the upcoming essay collection Mindset. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, Esquire, North American Review, and The Huffington Post, and has been awarded the Pushcart Prize best essay award.
By studying the structure and function of opinion writing, this seminar will teach medical students to step into their power and influence as physicians-in-training. By offering a space to reflect on the ways in which injustice impacts their experiences in medicine, this short course will enable students to begin writing in service of social change. Through the careful examination of contemporary issues from BLM, Climate Change and the COVID-19 Pandemic, students will be challenged to give voice to the suffering, both inside and outside of clinical spaces. Class time will be used to discuss short reading assignments, to write and to offer constructive feedback. Like medical education and practice, medical activism can also lead to burnout. As such, this seminar will also highlight the ways in which writing can act as a salve for the compassion fatigue common in both lines of work.
Dr. Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu is a graduate of the Narrative Medicine master’s program at Columbia University. She is a Harvard Trained psychiatrist specializing in women's mental health and reproductive psychiatry and an award-winning columnist for STAT. She is the founding editor of The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
Narratives are formed explicitly and implicitly as the body moves through space and time. In this interactive course, you will learn to observe, interpret and create movement vocabulary in ways that reflect personal narratives, music choices, and other creative inputs. These sessions are participatory in nature and will help you observe the world as dancers and choreographers do.
To supplement your individual experience and explore the concepts of dance practice in a patient population, you 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 on Zoom, you 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.
Watch this short video to see the program in action. This course will offer a new perspective on how you, as physicians-in-training, can understand and utilize the revealing power of non-verbal, physical narrative in your medical work as well as appreciate ways people living with chronic diseases like Parkinson's can harness the power of an art form like dance to alter the course of their own personal narratives. No prior dance experience is required for this course.
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.
world, and one's place in it. How do we understand such works? What do they tell us about our own mechanisms of seeing/listening/understanding? In this course combining art interpretation and mindfulness, we will pay attention to works of art, to ourselves, and to each other. In doing so we will use engagement with art to gain a better understanding of the human condition and to explore the benefits of multiple modes of observation and interpretation. Students will be required to participate in group discussions and activities. No prior knowledge of art is necessary.
Carrie McGee is the former Assistant Director for Community and Access Programs at The Museum of Modern Art, where she was responsible for developing programming for visitors with disabilities and in collaboration with community-based organizations. She also teaches gallery and studio-based programs. In 2009, Carrie co-authored Meet Me: Making Art Accessible to People with Dementia.
in a New York City art museum to engage in conversation about a great work of art in a public space. Together we will see deeply into each artwork and examine the many ways art can be understood and appreciated, and what can and cannot be known. Finally, through this complex array of interpretive possibilities, we will consider artworks in relation to the practice and study of medicine.
Rika Burnham teaches Works of Art and Wide Awakeness to the World in the Program of Narrative Medicine, Columbia University. Previously, she was Head of Education at the Frick Collection, Museum Educator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Project Director at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 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.
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. As a final project, students will complete 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 Medical Center, working with both the Departments of Surgery and Medicine on educational material geared towards patients, students and teachers. He received his B.A. and M.D. from Columbia University.
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.
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 taking 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.
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, cognitive 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 Well-Being and Health Promotion at CUIMC, an Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health, and an Adjunct Instructor in the School of Labor and Union Studies (SLU) at CUNY. Dr. Bogart has a degree in Apparel Design from Cornell University, and both Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Health and Behavior Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has appeared as a "Sexpert" on MTV and written a book, Sexploration: The Ultimate Guide to Feeling Truly Great in Bed (Penguin, 2006).
Kendall Sarson is a rising M4 who will be applying into OBGYN in the fall. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2015 with a degree in studio art after which she completed an IRONMAN 70.3 in Texas, worked for a year as an EMT and moved to New York to pursue a postbaccalaureate premedical degree. Since coming to VP&S, Kendall has fallen in love with the city, rekindled a love for running, and adopted a cat with whom she is equally smitten. This will be her second-year co-teaching Making Meaning with Dr. Bogart.
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 to 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.
At the basis of all journalism—whether it's a 6,000-word New Yorker story or coverage of a zoning board meeting—is storytelling. There's a science to journalistic storytelling which involves a story's organizational structure, quotes and citations, and methods of balancing the topic. And, of course, there's an art to it, through use of tools like language, tone, and imagery. Those facets, blended together, are what connects with the reader. In this class, the stories we focus on have a medical and/or public health focus. 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, policies around addiction, Medicaid expansion, equal access for the LGBTQIA+ community, and access and affordability of mental health care, to name a few. The first half of the workshop is treated like a condensed journalism school, where we'll learn the fundamentals of crafting a news story. The second half drills into the medical side of writing, and we'll explore how the methods journalism uses to look at complex situations and communicate them with readers can be applied to doctors communicating with patients. There is a heavy emphasis on interviewing. Assignments will include readings, in-class writing assignments, and one final story that will be crafted over the six weeks. It will equate to about two hours of work per week (the writing schedule is flexible to accommodate your workload). We will also hear from speakers in the field. Participants will leave with a story that is ready to pitch and publish. Previous writing experience not required.
Marjorie Korn is a writer, editor, and podcaster based in New York City covering health, science, nutrition and more. Most recently, she was senior editor at Men's Journal, and her first co-written book on the medical and social implications of menopause will be published by HarperCollins in October. 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. In addition to her medical and science writing, she's working on a podcast about European football.
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 is listening a form of care? How might we cultivate ethical and equitable listening practices in a culture of excessive talk? How might we be better audiences for ourselves, each other, and for those in our care? 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 caregiving. Class time is devoted to close reading, close listening, reflection, and discussion.
Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, Professor and Director of the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College Columbia University earned her Ph.D. and BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and her M.A. 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 essential 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, she serves on the board of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. Dr. Furlonge’s research examines the intersections between listening, cognitive neuroscience, social justice, and school leadership. She lives in Yonkers, NY with her spouse who is also an educator-leader, their three children, and their puppy.
“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 explore how movies work on us, the density and idiosyncrasy of our responses –and how these might be relevant to 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 relationality. Attention will be given to fundamentals of cinematic form. Films will be selected from among the work of Hirokazu Kore-eda, Joshua Oppenheimer, Barry Jenkins, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Pedro Almodovar, 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. Class preparation will be approximately 2 hours per week: screening the assigned film and completing a ten-minute writing exercise.
Maura Spiegel teaches fiction and film in the Department of English at Columbia University She is co-author of The Grim Reader: Writings on Death, Dying and Living On, The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine, and she recently published a biography of the movie director Sidney Lumet. Her scholarly interests include 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
The Division of Narrative Medicine in the Department of Medical Humanities & Ethics of Columbia University offers a month-long intensive elective in Narrative Medicine. Creativity is very close to the heart of clinical care, odd though that may sound. We have to be able to imagine patients' situations, wonder about what it must be like in their worlds. We depend on our capacity to expand our minds beyond the ordinary or pre-conceived if we want to come anywhere close to understanding patients' lives and envisioning ways to help them in their illnesses as well as to understand and process our own clinical experiences. Close reading, creative writing, visual arts, and reflective writing about clinical practice help us in those creative acts, expanding our ability to perceive what we see, and maybe, even, to wonder about its meaning.
All teaching sessions in the elective are collaborative and supportive. Because we are doing creative work together, we quickly become good readers and viewers for one another, able to help one another understand our own thoughts. Students in past years have been surprised by the pleasure derived from the elective and the supportive climate of this intensive learning experience. The training methods are based on over a decade of international teaching and outcomes research undertaken by the Program.
Learning Objectives: The elective is composed of five seminars taught by Columbia faculty. Each seminar meets once or twice per week for 90 minutes. The seminars are structured to develop the skills of close attention to aural, textual, and visual texts. Each month, the five seminars include training in close reading, visual or audial perceiving and creation, and creative writing. There is ample opportunity to review and reflect on clinical experiences through medical training. All enrolled student take part in all scheduled seminars. Ample unscheduled time is given for students to read, write, draw, and to virtually visit New York’s vast resources for visual arts, music, theatre, and literary readings. Seminar meetings occur Monday through Friday. Cultural/creative activities outside of class contribute enormously to the productivity of the month.
Learning Opportunities: The elective will include a variety of seminars structured to develop the skills of close attention to aural, textual, and visual creations. Seminars offered vary monthly and may include the close reading of fiction and personal essay, close listening to classical music, and explorations of doctor-patient experiences and transference and counter-transference. Additional seminars focus on creating graphic fiction and writing fiction, poetry, or personal memoir within the clinical setting. All enrolled students take part in all scheduled seminars. Ample unscheduled time is given for students to read, write, and draw and to virtually visit New York's vast resources for visual art, music, and literary readings and theatre. Seminar meetings occur Monday through Friday. Cultural/creative activities outside of class contribute enormously to the productivity of the month.
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