News and Commentary Macy Faculty Scholar Deepthiman Gowda on Combining Narrative Medicine with IPE

Deepthiman Gowda, MD, MPH, of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, discusses his new curriculum that integrates narrative medicine and interprofessional education in a real world clinical setting.

What are you working on as a Macy Faculty Scholar and why is it important to you?
My project focuses on developing a year-long narrative medicine curriculum for patient-centered medical home practices at Farrell and Rangel Clinics, both community clinics in upper Manhattan. Diverse teams of physicians, nurses, social workers and students will be reading literature together, engaging with art, and practicing reflective writing in an effort to learn more about one another and explore critical issues in their care of patients.

At the heart of narrative medicine is the belief that sharing stories or connecting creatively through a painting, poem, or other work of art builds trust and strengthens relationships. Through this curriculum, I hope to enhance team cooperation, effectiveness, and also the clinicians’ creativity in treating their patients. The practice of medicine, after all, is about interpreting very complex and nuanced details—the same way you’d interpret a piece of art—creativity is essential.

Can you explain more about how your curriculum is being implemented?
The curriculum began in February 2016 at Rangel and Farrell Clinics and will continue for one year. The Narrative Medicine sessions at Farrell Clinic occur weekly during mandatory interprofessional team meetings. At Rangel Clinic, sessions occur twice a month, also at mandatory team meetings. I have been amazed at how willing the staff has been to try new things—looking and talking about art, doing reflective writing, and sharing their writing and observations with one another. I have also been surprised by how balanced the contributions have been: a medical assistant is just as likely to contribute to the conversation as a nurse or a physician. Typically, observed clinical hierarchies seem to disappear while doing this work. We hope that these activities will allow the staff to know themselves and each other in new ways, and will produce insights on how to best care for their patients and for one another.

What are your ultimate goals for your project?
I want to use narrative medicine to enhance the teamwork and care coordination that we need on interprofessional teams.

It’s amazing how narrative medicine can change the dynamic between different groups of people. When you share your own personal writing with your colleagues and they treat what you’ve written with respect, there is an increased sense of trust and comradery that is irreplaceable.

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