NOTE:  For Spring 2021, the course runs April 9 – May 21, and includes four required lectures (1:00 – 3:00pm) on the following dates:

April 9, 2021
April 23, 2021
May 7, 2021
May 21, 2021

The majority of the course is conducted through a Blackboard site.

Prerequisites: None.  Students will be required to read the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi prior to the first lecture.


In her article “Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust” (JAMA Oct 17, 2001), Rita Charon writes:

With narrative competence, physicians can reach and join their patients in illness, recognize their own personal journeys
through medicine, acknowledge kinship with and duties toward other health care professionals, and inaugurate consequential
discourse with the public about health care. By bridging the divides that separate physicians from patients, themselves,
colleagues and society, narrative medicine offers fresh opportunities for respectful, empathic, and nourishing medical

In this Narrative Medicine Elective, M4 students will develop an understanding of the Narrative Medicine framework. They will learn to elicit from patients’ their narratives in a way that creates a better connection between physician and patient. Medical students will learn how their own narrative as students and future physicians affects the way they practice medicine. In developing their narrative competence, medical students will become more empathetic, compassionate and well-rounded physicians.


  • Students will develop an understanding of the Narrative Medicine approach to illness through the following course activities:
    • Lecture
    • Assigned Readings
    • Group Discussion
  •  Students will improve their ability to elicit a personal history from patients by performing the following:
    • Taking a history from a patient using the Narrative Medicine Approach
    • Writing the patient’s history from the patient’s perspective
    • Reflecting and sharing in group discussion how this new approach affects their relationship with the patient and their understanding of the patient’s illness
  • Students will gain an understanding of the sociocultural aspects of a patient’s illness and how it relates to their treatment through:
    • Assigned readings (patient reflections)
    • Taking a detailed social-cultural history from a patient
    • Reflecting on the way in which a patient’s sociocultural
    background relates to their illness and their treatment
  • Students will develop an empathetic and compassionate view of illness through reflection on their own, or a loved one’s, experience with illness by:
    • Completing an assignment in Personal Illness Narratives
    • Sharing their reflections through group discussion
  • Students will reflect on their role as physicians and healers through:
    • Assigned readings (physician experiences)
    • Completing a creative project (essay, poem, visual art, etc) that reflects what they have learned through the course and how it affects their personal growth as future physicians

Instructional Methods:

  • What are the learning activities? Lecture, Course Reading, Group Discussion, Reflective Papers, Creative Project
  • What is the hourly break down of each learning activity?
    • Lecture: 8 hours
    • Group Discussion: 20 hours
    • Written Papers (3 total): 12 hours
    • Final Project: 4 hours
    • Patient Interviews: 16 hours
  • What kind of patients will students see?
    • Inpatients at UIH


Students will be graded on a pass/fail basis.  Students will be assessed by the faculty based on their participation in class lecture and the online discussion forum, their written assignments and their creative project.  Students will be assessed by their peers, as well, based on their participation in group discussion and their leading of a journal club article.  Students will also complete a self-assessment at the end of the course.

Administrative Information

Program number: ELEC 620

Program Director: Anna Maria Gramelspacher, MD, MA
Duration: 4 weeks, longitudinally (April 9 – May 21)
Max Students accepted:  15

Total hours week:  30

Reporting instructions:

Keywords:  Narrative Medicine, Medical Humanities, Literature and Medicine, Writing, Online Elective

Updated: 3/18/21