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What Can Healthcare Professionals Learn from Art? A Columbia University Physician Finds Answers at the Met

NEW YORK, Nov. 14, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In an article published in the November 15 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Rita Charon, MD, PhD, professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians & Surgeons (P&S) and executive director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, examines the ways in which both the physician and the artist inform their practice through recognition of the self in their work. Dr. Charon, a pioneer of narrative medicine as a field of study and a methodology for medical education, sees parallels in the reflection of the artist in the painting and the recognition of self in the meeting of doctor and patient.

Writing the account of a session with an elderly Albanian couple gives tangible form to that session—a form that, like Rembrandt's self-portraits, enables examination, beholding, and learning. In a "pilgrimage" to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dr. Charon observes that the ways in which the self-portrait informs the artist-as-self are closely akin to the ways in which the clinical encounter informs the physician-as-self. The artist's examination of self occurs in the act of painting the self-portrait, which provides dividends for the viewer. And while giving narrative form to the clinical session allows the doctor to look into the "truth-telling mirror" for "a rare view of the self," the dividends from the physician's examination of self truly benefit the patient.

Among the myriad narrative methods and exercises Dr. Charon has introduced to the medical school curriculum is "Art Matters: An Evening for Medical Students" at the Frick Collection in New York. The collaboration between P&S and the Frick marked the first time a visual arts education program has been expanded to an entire first-year medical school class, to explore how visual art experiences can facilitate the development of key clinical abilities. Through her work funded by the NIH, Dr. Charon has also introduced required coursework to second-year medical students that includes fiction writing, figure drawing, and cinema, in addition to classes at the Frick Collection and the Museum of Modern Art. 

Dr. Charon was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (5R25HL08014-02). Dr. Charon declares no financial or other conflicts of interest.

About the Program in Narrative Medicine
Through narrative training, the Program in Narrative Medicine helps healthcare professionals and educators to improve the effectiveness of care by developing the capacity for attention, reflection, representation, and affiliation with patients and colleagues. In addition to training second- and fourth-year medical students at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in narrative competency, the program offers a graduate degree in Narrative Medicine, intensive workshops, and programs and services designed to foster collaboration among the schools of the Columbia University Medical Center. For more information, visit

About Columbia University Medical Center
Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical, and clinical research; in medical and health sciences education; and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree and is among the most selective medical schools in the country. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest in the United States. For more information, please visit

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SOURCE Program in Narrative Medicine
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