December 14, 2005

The Use of Stories in Clinical Research and Health Policy

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Colorado Health Outcomes Program and Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Aurora.

JAMA. 2005;294(22):2901-2904. doi:10.1001/jama.294.22.2901

Physicians are immersed in stories. They hear stories from patients, tell them to other physicians, and recall them in quiet moments.1 Literary scholars, folklorists, and historians have long emphasized the importance of stories.2,3 In recent years, physicians trained in these disciplines have considered the role of stories in clinical practice. The physician-anthropologist Kleinman suggests that physicians need to move beyond “clinical interrogation” to listen attentively to their patients’ narratives of illness.4(p9),5 Charon draws on her background in literary studies to suggest that the practice of medicine requires “narrative competence,” which she defines as “the set of skills required to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by the stories one hears or reads.”6(p862) She further proposes that physicians can enhance their clinical and emotional development through retelling clinical stories.

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