Prerequisites: Students must have completed M3 year.  This elective can be taken at any time during the M4 year.  Students will be required to read the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi prior to the first lecture.


The purpose of this course is to provide students with an understanding of the Narrative Medicine framework for practicing medicine.  Rita Charon, MD PhD, who developed the field of Narrative Medicine writes that “The effective practice of medicine requires narrative competence, that is, the ability to acknowledge, absob, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others.  Medicine practiced with narrative competence, called narrative medicine, is proposed as a model for humane and effective medical practice.”  In this elective, students 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.


The following graduation competencies will be addressed during the course:

  1. Patient Care
    1. Obtain a medical history appropriate to the patient’s medical concerns
    2. Consider cultural and socioeconomic factors in management options
    3. Form an effective therapeutic relationship
    4. Construct a therapeutic plan for relieving pain, ameliorating suffering and directed toward specific resolution of health problems
    5. Counsel and education patients and their families
  2. Medical Knowledge
    1. Understand of the cultural factors important to health care
    2. Understand relevant legal and ethical concepts
  3. Practice-based Learning and Improvement
    1. Assess his/her strengths and weaknesses in order to improve performance and identify effective ways to address limitations and enhance expertise
    2. Access information effectively, efficiently, critically appraise the information and relate it to their patient’s health problems
    3. Admit his/her limits of knowledge, know what to do when those limits are reached, deal with uncertainty, and respect the opinion of others
    4. Recognize the need to learn is continuous
  4. Interpersonal and Communication Skills
    1. Listen attentively
    2. Communicate clearly with colleagues, consultants, patients and patients’ families both orally and in writing
  5. Professionalism
    1. Respect the opinion of others
    2. Recognize the need to learn is continuous
    3. Demonstrates respect for human dignity

Instructional Features:

The elective will consist of 4 lectures over 8 weeks.  Students will be required to complete assigned course readings, participate in online group discussion daily, participate in student-led journal discussion, complete three written papers and one creative project.


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 335
Location: TBD
Fridays, 4/9/21, 4/23/21, 5/7/21, 5/21/21
1:00pm- 3:00pm

Program Director: Anna Maria Gramelspacher, MD, MA
Coordinator:  Anna Maria Gramelspacher, MD, MA
Telephone:  Pager: 8914
Duration: 8 weeks
Night call: No
Weekends: No
Students accepted:  Minimum: 3 – Maximum: 12
House staff used as faculty: No
Inpatient/faculty contact: NA
Laboratory/independent study: No lab
Outpatient: No
Total hour week:  7.5 hours per week for 8 weeks = 60 total hours (2 credit course)

Reporting instructions:

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

Updated: 1/22/21