September Virtual Narrative Medicine Rounds with Danielle Spencer

“Metagnosis: Revelatory Narratives of Health and Identity,” a talk by writer Danielle Spencer, PhD

For our first Narrative Medicine Rounds for the new academic year, we welcome Danielle Spencer, Academic Director of the Columbia University Narrative Medicine Master of Science Program. Spencer will speak about her new book Metagnosis: Revelatory Narratives of Health and Identity (Oxford University Press, 2020) and continue the discussion with Dr. Deepu Gowda, the Director of Clinical Practice of the Program in Narrative Medicine and Assistant Dean for Medical Education at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine. 

Cover of Metagnosis

Spencer’s research interests include retrospective diagnosis, contemporary film and bioethics, and healthcare pedagogy; scholarly and creative work appears in diverse outlets from The Lancet to Ploughshares. Danielle Spencer holds a BA from Yale University, an MS in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University, a PhD from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, and is a 2019 MacDowell Fellow and a 2020 Yaddo Fellow. ​Spencer, who was formerly the art director for artist/musician David Byrne, is a co-author of Perkins-Prize-winning The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine (OUP, 2017).

Bridging memoir with key concepts in narratology, philosophy and history of medicine, as well as disability studies, this book identifies and names the phenomenon of metagnosis: the experience of learning in adulthood of a longstanding condition. It can occur when the condition has remained undetected (e.g. colorblindness) and/or when the diagnostic categories themselves have shifted (e.g. ADHD). More broadly, it can occur with unexpected revelations bearing upon selfhood, such as surprising genetic test results. Though this phenomenon has received relatively scant attention, learning of an unknown condition is often a significant and bewildering revelation, one that subverts narrative expectations and customary categories. How do we understand these revelations? In addressing this topic Spencer approaches narrative medicine as a robust research methodology comprising interdisciplinarity, narrative attentiveness, and the creation of writerly texts. 

As Assistant Dean for Medical Education at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, Deepthiman Gowda, MD, MPH, MS is working to introduce narrative medicine into the curriculum. To date, his efforts have also focused on care to underserved communities, clinical skills education, and interprofessional education. Dr. Gowda is a general internist, photographer, and researcher looking at the use of visual art in health care settings.

Narrative Medicine Rounds are monthly rounds on the first Wednesday of the month during the academic year hosted by the Division of Narrative Medicine in the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. A recording of our Virtual Narrative Medicine rounds will be made available following the live session on the Narrative Medicine YouTube channel. You can also listen to a podcast of past Rounds on iTunes or watch recent ones on YouTube.