The Power of Painting in Narrative Medicine First Name Sumner Last Name Abraham Terminal Degree(s) M.D. Institution/Organization University of Virginia
Creating stories is a uniquely human trait. Stories are lenses by which we interact with our environments and subsequently engage in our communities. We tell, listen, and retell stories to one another and in the process bring to light our imaginations, create meaning in our own lives, and connect with one another. It is no surprise that we teach our children through fables or that Jesus taught his disciples through parables.
Recently within the field of medicine there has emerged the idea that the practice of evidence-based medicine is not enough as a stand alone model for empathetic patient care. Rather, a new model, the narrative-based model, is being championed as a way to approach patient-centered healthcare. Narrative medicine as defined by Dr. Rita Charon is the practice of medicine that “requires narrative competence, that is the ability to acknowledge, absorb, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others.” Medicine practiced with this skill set is narrative medicine and its goal is to cultivate the narrative knowledge of physicians that leads to greater job satisfaction and a richer comprehension of a patient and their illness.
A shift towards narrative medicine leads individuals to implement practices that facilitate reflection and most often this occurs through creative writing. However, not much has been written on how creative expression through painting or art can impact the physician-patient relationship and the role it can play in narrative medicine. To be an artist or an art historian requires flexibility, knowing there can always be a new interpretation of a piece of work. A smaller project took place earlier this year where individuals in our community painted a story of how their lives were shaped and impacted by medicine. A respondent commented on the wide array of interpretations of their own story, and others that were painted, and how this exercise mirrors and reflects the ambiguity that lies in medicine- patients can always have new symptoms, multiple complaints competing that may or may not be related. The reflection, practice, and analysis of this exercise was deeply encouraging to all who participated.
At the University of Virginia, we are creating an outlet for physicians to paint their story. This exercise generates mindful attention, interpretation, and a new form of communication that engages and enhances the individual’s creative imagination, tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, self-awareness, and reflection. Reflection in the form of painting is an art form of narrative medicine that has intrinsic beauty and allows individuals to live out their own stories in their practice of medicine.