The Need for Narrative: Grappling & Reckoning with These Times

October 22nd-24th, 2021

Join us for a new virtual basic workshop and online course!

Registration for the workshop is now closed! Inquire below to be added to our waitlist, should space become available!

Inquire About the Waitlist!


We tell stories because in the last analysis human lives need and merit being narrated. This remark takes on its full force when we refer to the necessity to save the history of the defeated and the lost. The whole history of suffering... calls for narrative.

 Paul Ricoeur

The Need for Narrative: Grappling & Reckoning with These Times, a new narrative medicine basic workshop, invites you to join the narrative medicine international community in bringing our creative resources to the task of locating ourselves in these unprecedented times and exploring the power of narrative work to bring our experiences into focus.

COVID-19 transformed human experience on a global scale, forcing us into isolation yet uniting us in an immediate response to illness, mortality, and the harrowing task facing our healthcare systems and workers. The pandemic illuminated disparities in healthcare, race, and social justice, and the dramatic political polarizations and still-present histories of discrimination that shaped those disparities and allows them to persist. The May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd, among many other events, prompted thousands to risk health and safety for the sake of marching for justice and reform, demonstrating that responding to this pivotal moment in time involves far more than the monumental task of attempting to temper a virus on a global scale.

The seemingly overwhelming complexities and interconnectedness of our moment call for narrative reckoning. How do we begin to engage with the fear, uncertainty, and burnout of navigating any or all of them? How do we understand our own experiences of loss, illness, caretaking, injustice, or activism in relation to the experiences of others so that we can find perspective and understanding? How do we find ways to cope and move forward?

This workshop offers narrative and creative work as a means to engage with these questions through creative and scholarly presentations by the Narrative Medicine faculty on creativity, philosophy and ethics, and witnessing of self and others, as well as intimate group work with other participants engaging with literature, film, and art. We are also honored to welcome distinguished guest speaker Nigel Hatton, PhDAssociate Professor of Literature and affiliate faculty in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at UC Merced, Adjunct instructor at Mount Tamalpais College at San Quentin Prison, Lecturer in Narrative Medicine, Contributing Editor to The James Baldwin Review, and Fellow at the University of California Humanities Research Institute, who will speak to us about narrative medicine’s potential as a tool for social justice.

While neither poetry, art, science, nor medicine (narrative or otherwise) can provide us with certainty on how to respond to this current moment in our history, all of these tools can help us to hold our questions and experiences and create spaces to grapple and reckon with them together. We hope you join us.

Workshop Description & Objectives

We are excited to share a new learning experience in a virtual format that brings together participants from all over the world for a weekend of intensive skill-building in narrative medicine practice. The narrative medicine faculty and program directors have worked to create an intimate and immersive experience, including lectures, small group work, literature, educational and networking resources, continuing education credits, and direct interaction with narrative medicine faculty. Our format combines live virtual sessions and asynchronous learning modalities to deliver an introduction to the field that provides the same learning, connection, and transformative experience as traditional in-person workshops, while taking into consideration the fatigue and burnout of demanding virtual schedules. 

Narrative medicine recognizes the aesthetic capabilities of its practitioners as fundamental instruments necessary for effective care. Acts of perception and attention ignite our narrative practice. Seeing, hearing, sensing, taking in that which we witness begins the process toward healing, and narrative medicine training attunes us to those skills within ourselves. We grow toward our own powers to attend to our patients through the schooled avenues of close reading, deep listening, and concentrated witnessing of works of art. This intensive workshop will offer rigorous skill-building in narrative competence and provides an intensive introductory experience to the methods and skills of narrative medicine. These practices are then applicable to unlimited clinical and non-clinical settings. Participants will experience plenary presentations by the founders of the Division of Narrative Medicine, and guest lecturer Nigel Hatton, PhD, in both live and asynchronous formats, and will engage with faculty, guest lecturer, and each other live via Zoom for interactive presentations, Q&A, and small group work. Participants will learn effective techniques for attentive listening, adopting others’ perspectives, accurate representation, and reflective reasoning. Plenary presentations by faculty open up themes of how stories and art work, exploring concepts such as creativity, ethics, bearing witness, and empathy, while the small groups practice rigorous skills in close reading, creative writing, and responding to the writings of others. Close reading is an integral part of the workshop as is short prompted writing and discussion. Participants will gain access to our online resources prior to the start of the workshop where all information necessary to prepare for the weekend is provided, including literary texts, film, visual art, and seminar articles in the field of narrative medicine by leading educators.

The Workshop live content will be held on Friday between 5:00pm-8:00p, Saturday between 9:30a-6p and Sunday between 9:30a-6p (all times EST).

Narrative Medicine

The effective care of the sick requires deep and singular knowledge of the patient, competence, and commitment of the physician, and a sturdy bond of trust between the two. Despite the many sociocultural and professional factors that may divide doctors and patients, and the impact of political and economic pressures on health care as a whole, effective medical practice needs to replace hurried and impersonal care with careful listening and empathic attention. By fortifying clinical practice with the ability to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by stories of illness, narrative training enables practitioners to comprehend patients’ experiences and to understand what they themselves undergo as clinicians. Professionalism, cultural competence, bioethical competence, interpersonal communication skills, self-reflective practice, and ability to work with health care teams can be strengthened by increasing narrative competence.

Many persons engaged in health care, including patients, providers, and literary scholars, are seeking fresh means to engage in powerful, person-centered care. Attentive listening, creative contact, singular accuracy, and personal fidelity are often missing from the routines of our practices. Among the many responses to the failures of our current health care system is Narrative Medicine. Developed at Columbia University in 2000, Narrative Medicine fortifies clinical practice with the ability to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by stories of illness. We realize that the care of the sick unfolds in stories, and we recognize that the central event of health care occurs when the patient gives an account of self and the clinician skillfully receives it. Our experience and research have shown that the clinical routines and teaching methods of narrative medicine can transform practice and training. Time-tested teaching approaches can help participants to convey to their students the skills of empathic interviewing, reflective practice, narrative ethics, and self-awareness.

Work and study with us virtually for a weekend. Connect with colleagues from the world over to learn the narrative skills of close reading, attentive listening, and creative writing. Find out how your own imagination can reveal things you know unawares. Experience the deep bonds that can form among clinicians and those who care about health care in short periods of small group intensive narrative work. Recognize and be recognized as ones who have care within them.

Asynchronous Resources:

(available via University secured online platform several weeks before workshop dates; live faculty Q&A during the weekend follows the recorded lectures.)

  • Orientation: Workshop Guidelines, Introductory information, and Welcome Board
  • Participant Profile: Voluntary, Including Bio/Contact Info/Headshot
  • Discussion/Resource Boards to connect across Professional Backgrounds
  • Discussion Boards for Pre-Recorded and Resource Content
  • Pre-readings and Course Literature            

Recorded Lectures:

  • “Fostering Creative Courage: Writing for Change, Affiliation, & Healing” by Nellie Hermann, MFA
  • “The Ethics of Vulnerability and the Face of the Pandemic” by Craig Irvine, PhD

Live Schedule (all times EDT and all sessions held on Zoom):

Friday October 22nd

  • 5:00-6:30pm: Telling, Listening, and Living through Stories: Conjectures, Refutations, and Concordances within Narrative Medicine | Rita Charon, MD, PhD
  • 7:00-8:00pm: Small Group Seminars | Breakout Rooms

Saturday October 23rd

  • 9:30-11:00am: Small Group Seminars | Breakout Rooms
  • 1:00-2:30pm: GUEST LECTURE | Nigel Hatton, PhD
  • 3:30-5:00pm: Small Group Seminars | Breakout Rooms
  • 5:30-6:00pm: Faculty Q&A for Recorded Lectures | Nellie Hermann & Craig Irvine 

Sunday October 24th

  • 9:30-11:00am: The Legacy of Untold Stories: The Look of Silence and Narrative Intervention | Maura Spiegel, PhD
  • 12:00-1:30pm: Small Group Seminars | Breakout Rooms
  • 2:30-3:45pm: Witnessing Self and Other | Deepthiman Gowda, MD, MPH, MS
  • 4:00-5:30pm: Small Group Seminars | Breakout Rooms
  • 5:30-6:00pm: Weekend Wrap-Up | Narrative Medicine Faculty


We invite nurses, physicians, physician assistants, dentists, chaplains, social workers, therapists, public health professionals and other clinicians, as well as writers, academics, scholars, and all those interested in the intersection of narrative and medicine to join us. By combining these groups of participants, we can all learn how to unify what are sometimes divided efforts in patient care, integrating the ethical awareness and sensibility with the clinical recognition that can ensue.


  • Guest Lecturer: Nigel Hatton, PhD

    • Associate Professor of Literature and Affiliate Faculty in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at UC Merced, Adjunct instructor at Mount Tamalpais College at San Quentin Prison

    Nigel De Juan Hatton, an associate professor of literature and affiliate faculty in philosophy at the University of California, Merced, was born on Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi, and raised in South Carolina, Arizona, California, Virginia, the Philippines and Germany. He received a B.A. in English from Virginia Tech, an MFA in Writing from the Jesuit University of San Francisco, an MA in Latin American Studies and MA in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, an MA in Modern Thought & Literature from Stanford University, and a dual Ph.D. in Modern Thought & Literature and The Humanities with a minor in Political Theory, also from Stanford. He completed postdoctoral study at the Kierkegaard Centre for Research at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. He has been a visiting fellow at Human Rights Watch in New York City (2004), the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University (2012-13), the International Criminal Court in The Hague (2013), the American Academy in Rome (2013), the University of California Humanities Research Institute (2016), and the Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College (2016).  Nigel Hatton has completed introductory and advanced seminars in the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. His published work includes essays on the relationship ofhuman rights and literature, and the literary and political ideas of writers and thinkers such as James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Søren Kierkegaard, Jose Marti, and Ivan Klima. Several of his articles appear in the series titled, Kierkegaard’s Influence on Literature, Criticism and Art, as well as in journals such as The James Baldwin Review and Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice. An essay focused on W.E.B. Du Bois is forthcoming in the African-American Literature in Transition series from Cambridge University Press. His current book project examines Kierkegaard’s inter-textuality and philosophical relationship with and to 19th and 20th century African-American literature and culture, from the writings of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs to the spirituality and laments of John Coltrane and Ben Webster. In 2015, he received a grant from the University of California Consortium in Black Studies in California to complete a project titled, “African American Women and Ending Cultures of Homicide.” This project brings together over 20 years of reporting, interviews, and research and collaboration with activists, photographers, journalists and artists working in urban spaces within the United States to amplify the voices and agency of women who have lost children to homicide and had the loss of their children relegated to spectacle (spectacular television shows, documentaries, songs, stereotypes, political fodder) and silence rather than substantive action and social change informed by their (women interviewed as part of the project) careful, informed and transformative theorizing that provides pragmatic, structural and policy specific directives for preventing and erasing cultures and incidents of violence (the kind that would have made the murder of their children an impossibility). Nigel Hatton has taught courses in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University, the Scandinavian Department and College Writing Programs at the University of California, Berkeley, the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts at the University of California, Merced, and in the American Studies Department at Würzburg University in Germany. Undergraduate courses offered include “Human Rights and Literature,” “Literature & Philosophy,” “Readings in Close Reading,” “Introduction to African American Literature and Culture,” “Existentialism,” “Introduction to World Literature,” and “American Literature to 1865.” He has also held graduate seminars on “Modernity” and “Cosmopolitanisms,” “African-American Lifeworlds, Global Thinking and Human Rights.” Throughout graduate school and during his faculty appointments, he has simultaneously taught courses in journalism, literature and writing in California State prisons through the Prison University Project (since 2003) at San Quentin Sate Prison, and the Prison Education Project (in 2014) at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, Calif. A proponent of education as a means to dismantle prisons one mind at a time, he is the prisoner advocate on the UC Merced Institutional Review Board committee (IRB) and currently advises UC Merced undergraduates collaborating on a service-learning project with inmates/students at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California. At UC Merced, he is also a co-organizer of the Human Rights Film Festival, a former steering committee member of the Humanities Center, sits on the Admissions subcommittee of the Undergraduate Council, and has served as an advisor to both the Black Student Union and the African Diaspora Graduate Group.

    Headshot of Nigel Hattan
  • Rita Charon, MD, PhD

    • Professor and Chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics

    Professor of Medicine at Columbia, narratologist and Jamesian, Executive Director of the Division of Narrative Medicine, author of Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness and co-auther of The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine.

    Headshot of Rita Charon
  • Nellie Hermann, MFA

    • Lecturer in Medical Humanities and Ethics at the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons

    Creative Director of Narrative Medicine, novelist, architect of Columbia’s faculty development in writing for clinicians, author of The Cure for Grief and The Season of Migration, and co-auther of The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine.

    Headshot of Nellie Hermann
  • Craig Irvine, PhD

    • Lecturer in Narrative Medicine at Columbia

    Founding Director of Narrative Medicine at Columbia, phenomenologist, and memoirist, author of “The Other Side of Silence: Levinas, Medicine, and Literature.”

    Headshot of Craig Irvine
  • Maura Spiegel, PhD

    • Senior Lecturer in the English and Comparative Literature Department

    Professor of English at Columbia, Founding Director of Narrative Medicine at Columbia, Victorianist and cinema scholar, editor of The Grim Reader and author of the recently released biography of film director Sidney Lumet titled Sidney Lumet: A Life, and co-author of The Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine.

    Headshot of Maura Spiegel
  • Deepthiman Gowda, MD, MPH, MS

    • Assistant Dean for Medical Education at Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine

    The first Assistant Dean for Medical Education at the newly founded Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, and Director of Clinical Practice of Narrative Medicine. Dr. Gowda is a general internist, photographer, and teacher/researcher in the teaching of visual arts in health care settings. He is also a Macy Foundation Faculty Scholar.

    Headshot of Deepthiman Gowda

Comments from Recent Participants

I was an absolute novice when I arrived at the basic workshop that Friday afternoon. I had never written a thing. I didn’t even know what a prompt was. But after the small group sessions and the other exercises were complete, narrative upon narrative began to percolate to the surface. Two days after that session I wrote my first contemporaneous narrative and I haven’t stopped writing since. There were many superb writers in my small group. But I never felt that the sessions were a competition. They were about each one of us being a little bit better at telling the story then we were before the session started. This is the gift of the Columbia Narrative Medicine faculty – helping each be better, feeling free to take risks, to try things out, and understanding the value and beauty of close, critical reading colleagues.

Andre Lijoi, MD
Associate Program Director WellSpan York Hospital Family Medicine Program/Clinical Associate Professor, Penn State University School of Medicine

I am seeing more the value of narrative medicine–bringing us beyond the superficial to appreciating more the richness and complexity of our lives

Tom McNeil, Social Worker
Cape Breton Cancer Centre, Nova Scotia, Canada

I wish I could attend a workshop every few months. There’s something about having a community of practice that replenishes and inspires. The workshop made me more confident to move forward with [my narrative] project: Why not me? Why not now?

Kathy Kirkland, Palliative Care Physician
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Hanover, NH, USA

Participants Will:

  • Develop the narrative competence to nourish empathic doctor-patient relationships
  • Learn narrative communication strategies for patient-centered and life-framed practice
  • Build habits of reflective practice that enhance professionalism and nurture clinical communities
  • Acquire pedagogic skills to teach methods of narrative medicine
  • Replace isolation with affiliation, cultivate enduring collegial alliances, and reveal meaning in clinical practice


  • $750 for participants with income over $100,000/year (Marked down 25% from $1000 and can be combined with our $50 Early Bird Discount)
  • $637 for income between $45,000 and $100,000/year (Marked down 25% from $850 and can be combined with our $50 Early Bird Discount)
  • $375 for income under $45,000/year (Marked down 25% from $500 and can be combined with our $50 Early Bird Discount)

Tuition includes access to all live and asynchronous content, as well as literature and pre-readings. 

Discounts for Cohorts

Based on our experience that cohorts of participants from an institution are better able to continue their narrative learning and to ignite narrative projects at their home institution, we now offer a discount of $50 on the tuition for each individual who attends with a cohort of two or more. If you plan to enroll with a cohort, reach out to Joseph Eveld at for more information on how to receive the discount.

Continuing Education Credits

AMA Continuing Medical Education

The Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

The Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons designates this live activity for AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

International activities for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™

Physicians may earn AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ for participation in some international activities. As of this writing, the AMA has agreements with the European Union of Medical Specialists and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Information about the different ways to earn AMA PRA credit through international activities can be found on the AMA website at

Continuing Dental Education

Columbia University College of Dental Medicine is an ADA CERP recognized provider 11/2017-12/2021. ADA CERP is a service of the American Dental Association to assist dental professionals in identifying quality providers of continuing dental education. ADA CERP does not approve or endorse individual courses or instructors; nor does it imply acceptance of credit hours by boards of dentistry. Concerns or complaints about a CE provider may be directed to the provider or to ADA CERP at

Participants: Continuing Education credits awarded for participation in the CE activity may not apply toward license renewal in all states. It is the responsibility of each participant to verify the requirements of his/her licensing board(s) and to report credits to the appropriate authority

Continuing Nursing Education Credits

Columbia University School of Nursing is accredited as a provider of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation. The Columbia University School of Nursing designates this live activity for a maximum of 13.75 CNE credit hours. Nurses should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Continuing Social Work Education Credits

We anticipate awarding Continuing Education Credits for Social Workers & Mental Health Counselors up to 13.75 credits.


Columbia University makes every effort to accommodate individuals with disabilities. If you require disability accommodations to for this event, please contact the Office of Disability Services at 212-854-2388 or at least 10 days in advance of the event. We will do our best to arrange accommodations received after this deadline but cannot guarantee them.

Share This Workshop

The Need for Narrative: Grappling and Reckoning with These Times, October 22-24, 2021: #fallNMworkshop #NeedForNarrative

Follow Our Past Workshops

Narrative Medicine Spring Virtual Basic Workshop, March 19-21, 2021: #springNMworkshop

Narrative Medicine & The Creative Impulse, October 23-25th 2020: #NMcreativeimpulse

Basic Workshop: October 11-13, 2019: #fallNMworkshop

Burnout in Healthcare: The Need for Narrative, March 8-10, 2019: #springNMworkshop #againstburnout

Basic Workshop: October 12-14, 2018: #fallNMworkshop

Narrative Palliative Care March 23-25, 2018: #palliativecarenmworkshop

Basic Workshop: November 10-12,2017: #fallNMworkshop

Basic Workshop: October 28 – 30, 2016 &October 16 – 18, 2015: #fallNMworkshop

Race | Violence | Justice: The Need for Narrative, April 7 – 9, 2017: #SocialJustice2017

Basic Workshop, A Call to Ethics: April 15 – 17, 2016: #NarrativeEthics2016 

Narrative Medicine Summer Institute: June 6 – 10, 2016: #NMedInstitute2016 

Advanced Workshop: June 23 – 26, 2016: #advancedNMworkshop