Spotlight on an MD Discovery Subject: Australia’s first narrative medicine course

Narrative Medicine: The Pen and the Stethoscope launched in April as part of the MD Discovery Subject program. MD2 students were given the opportunity to learn about the craft of writing and explore how writing and reading can help them to become better, kinder and more attuned doctors.

Students are seated around a table in a boardroom as they participate in the subject. Along the walls of the room are wooden bookshelves.

Author and University of Melbourne alumnus Dr Melanie Cheng teaches medical students about the craft of the short story.

Narrative medicine is a new field in health humanities that was designed to give healthcare professionals a way to find nourishing meaning in their work. Students learned skills in close listening (a skill that nurtures presence and empathy in doctors), creative writing, reflection, advocacy, and leadership.

The course, led by Dr Mariam Tokhi and Dr Fiona Reilly from the Department of Medical Education, has brought together a diverse group of teachers and students. The students were thoroughly engaged in workshops from esteemed writers including Professor Tony Birch, Chair of Literature at the University of Melbourne, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Poet in Residence at the University of Melbourne, Anna Spargo-Ryan, Editor of Island Magazine, Eileen Chong, award-winning poet, and Dr Melanie Cheng, author and columnist.

Students ponder and stand in front of artworks in the Dax Gallery. The artwork appears to be a series, with various expressive cartoon drawings depicting psychosis.

A visit to the Dax Gallery, where students examined narratives of psychosis, art-making and poetry.

The course enabled students to begin a journey of phenomenal growth and reflection, and we feel confident that each of the students will go on to become more sensitive clinicians, beautiful writers, and advocates for the health of all people.

“In such a short time we have all bonded through our writing, and I dare say that I have learned more about how to be a doctor in the last few weeks than I have learned over the past few years”, said one participating student.

The course has been a joyful and meaningful learning experience for both staff and students, and we look forward to refining and expanding the program in the months and years to come.