Narratives of Discovery - Series Introduction

January 1, 2021

The effective practice of medicine requires narrative competence, that is, the ability to acknowledge, absorb, 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.


Rita Charon, Columbia general internist and literary scholar who founded the discipline of narrative medicine. She is now the Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine and inaugural chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics.

Rita Charon, Photo Credit: Vincent Ricardel

The Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research has partnered with Rita Charon on a new narrative medicine series, interviewing today’s leading life scientists.

Narratives of Discovery spring from Columbia’s commitment to the creative dimensions of scientific knowledge, work, and lives. As the birthplace of the humanities-and-arts-fortified clinical discipline of narrative medicine, Columbia has long emphasized the aesthetics as well as the epistemologies of the clinical and basic sciences. This recurring series will visit with Columbia’s leading life scientists to learn about the imaginative springs of the ideas and hypotheses that move them toward discovery. If health, illness, and the body itself are concrete things that can be observed, measured, and challenged experimentally, they are simultaneously appearances that elicit subjective responses and carry meaning. This series will try to bring those poles of human understanding together to contemplate both the truth and the beauty that surround us.


Narrative Medicine Background:

In 2003, a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities gathered a group of clinicians and scholars at VP&S and the Arts and Sciences of Columbia University to conceptualize and articulate the consequences of bringing literary and creative practices into the realm of health care. From this intensive collaborative seminar, the discipline of Narrative Medicine emerged to become an internationally influential force in academic medicine and medical humanities. PI Rita Charon is a physician, general internist, literary scholar and now Professor of Medicine and Professor and founding chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics. Her work has become pivotal in narrative theory and literary studies as well as in general internal medicine and medical education.

The Division of Narrative Medicine, with Charon as PI, was awarded a NIH K07 Academic/Teacher Award grant to train medical school teachers at VP&S in teaching social, professional, and ethical dimensions of medicine. The Foundations of Clinical Medicine ("FCM") course was established, and now is a mandatory and high-stakes course through all four years of the VP&S curriculum. FCM faculty meet weekly for high-level faculty development, mentorship, and collaborative research.

Read the full series



narrative medicine, Rita Charon