Expert discusses new patient care techniques

Reagan Ritterbush

Rita Charon spoke on Wednesday night at the Student Activity Center about her approach to patient care. In order to cultivate empathy and understanding in the physician-patient relationship, she encourages the use of storytelling. 

Charon, the professor of clinical medicine and director of the program in narrative medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, explained how physicians gain the privilege of hearing their patients’ stories just by building trust. She said this privilege is the fire behind all of her work. 

“Illness raises the veil on very important aspects of a patient’s life that usually remains hidden,” Charon said. “We as caretakers have to understand our patients’ feelings and make sense of their rage, loss and pain.”

Charon also touched on the narrative medicine principles she is teaching physicians to use in order to build relationships with their patients. Some of these principles include recognizing, absorbing, interpreting and being moved to action by stories of illness and having a commitment to social justice.

“It is important to learn what a patient wants and not just what they need,” Charon said. “It is amazing what can happen out of the simple interactions between physicians and patients.”

Charon delivered her “Health, Wellbeing, and Healing” lecture as part of her residence at the C.L. and Henriette Cline Centennial Visiting Professor in the Humanities.

Kiesiology graduate student Evan Bettis said he went to this event because he wanted to work in a clinic someday and it would be interesting to learn about a new approach to patient care from the person who innovated it.

“We have a unique opportunity as students to learn about anything we want to,” Bettis said. “This lecture taught me about new strategies on how to react and behave in a clinical environment.”

The event was sponsored by the Humanities Institute through the C.L. and Henriette Cline Centennial Visiting Professorship in the Humanities and the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies in the Department of English. Phillip J Barrish, a professor of English, said the topics discussed at this lecture are critical for all UT students to learn about anything they want to do in the future. 

“This lecture is important because the skills and approaches Dr. Charon discusses are essential to our own work as students, professors and human beings,” Barrish said.