The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine

By Rita Charon, Sayantani DasGupta, Nellie Hermann, Craig Irvine, Eric R. Marcus, Edgar Rivera Colón, Danielle Spencer, Maura Spiegel

Oxford University Press

NEW YORK—The Program of Narrative Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons announced the publication of The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine, a seminal book that articulates the ideas, methods, and practices of narrative medicine. The book, which was published on November 4, 2016, by Oxford University Press, provides the authoritative starting place for any clinicians or scholars committed to learning about and eventually teaching or practicing Narrative Medicine.

The 360-page book will be an important resource, not only for those in the medical field, but also for anyone interested in the future of health care. The scope of its inquiry and its laser-beam refocusing of the way medical education is taught in the United States has far-reaching implications that insure the book will find a wider audience beyond the academic and the medical fields. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2003, the book project was chosen last year as one of the 50 most important grants given by the NIH, out of over 63,000 grants, in its storied 50-year history.

Narrative medicine is a fresh discipline of health care that helps patients and health professionals to tell and listen to the complex and unique stories of illness. Arising at Columbia University in 2000 from roots in the humanities and patient-centered care, narrative medicine draws patients, doctors, nurses, therapists, and health activists together to reimagine a health care based on trust and trustworthiness, humility, and mutual recognition. The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine brings together the theoretical constructs behind this new health care discipline, as well as practical knowledge culled from over a decade of education, research, workshops, and collaborative thinking that has crystallized the goals and methods of narrative medicine, leading to increasingly powerful means to improve the care that patients receive.

“The goal of narrative medicine from its start has been to improve health care,” says Rita Charon, an internist and literary scholar who directs the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University and started the Program at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2000 to teach future doctors and medical clinicians how to elicit, interpret, and act upon the stories of their patients. “This accounts for the title we have chosen for our book, The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine, echoing William Osler’s 1892 The Principles and Practice of Medicine that set the standards for the practice of internal medicine.”

In the Introduction, Charon talks about the evolution of this new kind of medical training. “Narrative medicine began as a rigorous intellectual and clinical discipline to fortify health care with the capacity to skillfully receive the accounts persons give of themselves—to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved to action by the stories of others.” The methods described in the book harness creativity and insight to help professionals—not just to diagnose and treat patients, but to bear witness to what they undergo. Narrative medicine training in literary theory, philosophy, narrative ethics, and the creative arts increases clinicians’ capacity to perceive the turmoil and suffering borne by patients and to help them to endure the chaos of illness.

A look through the Table of Contents reveals the breadth and depth of this inquiry, from an analysis of accounts of self, in Parts I and II, by Maura Spiegel and Danielle Spencer, using works by authors such as Colm Toibin (The Master), Alison Bechtel (the graphic novel, Fun Home), and Kazou Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go), to a chapter by Craig Irvine and Dr. Charon, who tackle the “Narrative Ethics of Clinical Practice.” In Part III, an analysis of “The Politics of Pedagogy: Cripping, Queering and Un-homing Health Humanities,” by Sayantani Das Gupta, lays the groundwork for sexuality and gender anthropologist Edgar Rivera Colón to addresses “Qualitative Ways of Knowing,” later in the book in a chapter on “Demystifying Qualitative Research Methods.” In Part IV: Close Reading, Dr. Charon describes the signature method of narrative medicine, which gives rise to attentive listening, a crucial skill for clinicians as well as everyone else in today’s highly-distractible world. In Part V: Creativity, novelist Nellie Hermann addresses the thorny question, “Can Creativity be Taught,” providing strategies for writing in the health professions, as well as teaching tools for reflective writing in workshops and classrooms, insightful chapters for any writing instructor.

About the Publisher

With origins dating back to 1478, Oxford University Press is the world’s largest university press with the widest global presence. Its Global Academic Publishing program spans the entire academic and higher education spectrum, including a wide array of scholarly and general interest books, journals, and online products.

Book Details

Hardcover, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches, 360 pages
ISBN: 9780199360192
Also available as an Ebook
List Price: $55
Order from Oxford online

Translated Editions

The Japanese edition of “The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine” translated by Seiji Saito, Yukie Kurihara, and Shotaro Saito will be published on July 20, 2019 from Kitaohji Shobo. Kyoto, Japan.

Registration information
Book: 544 pages
Publisher: Kitaohji Shobo (2019/7/20)
Language: Japanese
ISBN-10: 4762830704
ISBN-13: 978-4762830709
Release date: 2019/7/20


The Polish edition of “The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine” translated by Mateusz K. Potoniec, Hubert Syzdek, and Maria Świątkowska, with a foreword by Mateusz K. Potoniec, and Hubert Syzdek was published in 2020 from Medycyna Praktyczna, Kraków, Poland.

Registration information
Book: 435 pages
Publisher: Medycyna Praktyczna
Language: Polish
ISBN-13: 9788374306164
Release date: 2020
The book can be purchased here.


Translations are also forthcoming in French, Greek, and Simplified Chinese.

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