Reflective writing is a key component of Medical Humanities, the overall goal of which is "the exploration of the human experience in its entirety."
Medical Humanities Program Director Ron Grant, MD, MFA meets monthly with small groups of students who sometimes share their journal writings or discuss their personal reactions to the words they put on paper. At other times, students bring samples of writing by other authors whom they admire. Sometimes the students are given a written prompt, while at other times the students take off on their own. Reflective writing helps fill the void that students sometimes experience as they immerse themselves in the science-based culture of medical school, where objectivity rules.
Tamara McBride entered medical school certain that she wanted to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. Now in her final year of medical school, she’s changed her mind. She wants to be a family physician.
It was the reflective writing she did through the Program in Medical Humanities that brought her to this all-important realization.
"I took a trip to West Africa last summer and did some very difficult work. It was hard to understand what was going on, and what I could do to help. So I wrote in my journal, and for the past year I've been processing what I wrote. And through that processing experience and looking back in my journal, I realized I still wanted to do women's health, but through family medicine instead of Ob-Gyn. I would say that reflective writing made me realize what I really want to do."
"I recently saw a patient for the first time who had advanced cancer and chronic pain. He's on an anti-depressant but still very disillusioned and depressed.
So my prescription for him was to write 15 minutes a day, no more, at least three days a week, and one day he can write about how difficult his life is, and the other days he has to write about the great experiences he's had—the stories he told me that made him light up. And then he has to send his writing to me.
We'll see what happens, but I think this will really help with his disillusionment. And I wouldn't have thought of this if I hadn’t been doing it myself. That’s how Medical Humanities helps me be a better physician.