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Conference to explore role of stories in health and healing

RIVERSIDE, Calif. Story-telling has long held a place of prominence in American culture, but only recently has come to be viewed as a having a role in the practice of American medicine. "Medical Examinations: Art, Story, Theory" a conference presented April 26-27 by University of California, Riverside anthropologists, artists, writers, psychologists, physicians and historians will explore the role of stories in medicine and healing.

The conference will be held at UCR's Culver Center of the Arts, 3824 Main St. in downtown Riverside, and is free and open to the public. Registration is required, however. Lunch will be provided for participants who register by April 20 at

Juliet McMullin, associate professor of anthropology and conference co-organizer, said the event will highlight the health-related research undertaken by UCR faculty in such diverse disciplines as anthropology, history, psychology, the arts and medicine. Undergraduate students in cultural anthropology who have collected narratives from cancer patients and worked with artists to illustrate those stories will display their work as well, she said.

"So many of us are working on health issues, and we think narrative is one way we come together to talk about health issues," McMullin explained. "We're hoping to launch more collaboration among our researchers and the community."

Narrative is gaining recognition in medical schools, the cultural anthropologist added, noting the introduction of a medical narratives program at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City to improve the effectiveness of health care.

"Being able to collect better stories from patients helps physicians become better practitioners," McMullin explained. "Stories are how we get to know each other and how we make sense of our world. When patients read stories about others whose experiences are similar to their own, they know they are not alone."

Graphic novels have become useful tools to help doctors communicate with their patients, she said, and the conference will include presentations from two graphic cartoon artists: Brian Fies, who in 2004 created a comic strip called "Mom's Cancer" when his mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer (; and Ian Williams, a physician and cartoon artist who explores the role that comics can play in the study and delivery of health care (

Chikako Takeshita, UCR associate professor of women's studies, is a conference co-organizer. Conference supporters are the UCR Center for Ideas and Society, The Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Rupert Costo Chair at UCR, and the UCR Departments of Women's Studies and Anthropology.

The conference schedule and presenters include:

Friday, April 26:

8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. Continental breakfast
9:45 a.m. Welcome from Georgia Warnke, director of the UCR Center for Ideas and Society
10 a.m.-Noon Panel 1: Identity and narrative. Tiffany Lopez, UCR professor of theater and the Toms Rivera Chair in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; Susan Zieger, UCR associate professor of English; and Arthur Frank, University of Calgary sociologist.
Noon-1:30 p.m. Break for lunch (lunch provided to those who register by April 20)
1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Panel 2: Landscapes of healing narratives. Cliff Trafzer, UCR professor of history and the Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs; and Goldberry Long, UCR assistant professor of creative writing.
3 p.m.-4 p.m. James Luna, Native American performance artist and professor emeritus of counseling at Palomar Community College.
4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Artist reception. Presentation of community and student illustrations and illness narratives.
5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Brian Fies, writer and comics artist
6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Book signings. Exhibits open.

Saturday, April 27:

8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. Continental breakfast
9 a.m.-10 a.m. Continue presentation of undergraduate illness narratives and illustrations.
10 a.m.- Noon Panel 3: Narrative in physician and patient interaction. Robin DiMatteo, UCR distinguished professor of psychology; Paul Lyons, professor of family medicine, UCR School of Medicine; and Mary Jo Delvecchio-Good, professor of social medicine at Harvard University, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.
Noon-1 p.m. Break for lunch
1 p.m.-2 p.m. Ian Williams, comics artist, physician and writer
2 p.m.-3 p.m. Roundtable discussion. Interdisciplinary conversations in narrative medicine (graduate student-organized and participation).
3 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. Original play by Rickerby Hinds, UCR associate professor of theater.


Contact: Bettye Miller
University of California - Riverside

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