At a quarter to two, I scurried over to the Medical Education Building/Library/Hellhole of my Preclinical Years to deliver this lecture. Walked into a large group of chatty kids. Chatty is always good before a lecture; it means people are relaxed and comfortable.
I was having all kinds of sympathetic surges on the way over, but as soon as I got there and began reading my talk, it all went away. I relaxed into my informal style, swinging between “teacher mode” and “senior student mode.” Perhaps I doth protest too much, but I always feel like I have to pitch narrative medicine when talking with a medical crowd.
I should probably have realized that premeds actually like this stuff — Illness Narratives and Bioethics were hands-down the most popular humanities electives for premeds at my undergrad. It’s only when you get to medical school that people start complaining that it’s fluffy or worthless. And thankfully, that attitude dissipates in the clinical years, because as you transition into the caregiving role, you realize just how ill-prepared you are for what you are going through.
I’m not pretending that I have all the magical secret answers to preventing burnout. But I do think narrative helps, because it pulls you out of your little neurotic head, away from the p-values and labile pressures, into something completely different. Perhaps I’m biased, because I am a very literary person myself, and I recognize that not everyone is a writer or a reader. But I do think that, for all the value of art and music and film, there is something very, very unique about the written or spoken word, something about the way it engages your brain and makes you do something totally different.