From Silence into Language: Questioning the Power of Physician Illness Narratives

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Abstract

Physicians' narratives of their own experiences of illness can be a kind of empathic bridge across the divide between a professional healer and a sick patient. This essay considers ways in which physicians' narratives of their own and family members' experiences of cancer shape encounters with patients and patients' experiences of illness. It analyzes ethical dimensions of physicians' narratives (such as those by Atul Gawande, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Paul Kalanithi) and of reflective writing in medical education. It also compares illness narratives written by physicians-turned-patients to those written by patients without medical training in order to explore questions of who ultimately benefits from these narratives and whether these narratives can engender greater empathy between clinicians and patients.

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Brown, A. E. C., & Garden, R. (2017). From Silence into Language: Questioning the Power of Physician Illness Narratives. AMA Journal of Ethics, 19(5), 501–507. https://doi.org/10.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.5.imhl1-1705

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