Michael Vitez is Director of Narrative Medicine at The Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Before coming to Temple, he spent 30 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer where he won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for a series of narratives about choices and changes surrounding care at end of life.
At Temple, the mission of the narrative medicine program is to focus on the human side of medicine, to increase the satisfaction and fulfillment of students and physicians, and to chronicle the amazing world of Temple University Hospital. We do this through a celebration of and emphasis on stories and storytelling.
The facts are well reported: Doctors too often feel isolated, frustrated, and burned out. Their humanity is challenged. The focus on the patient and patient’s story is often overlooked and devalued in the rush and crush. Students come into medical school full of empathy but in their education and training this often erodes.
Our goal is to protect and support this empathy, to nourish the humanism that brings physicians into the profession, and to teach the skills of narrative that help at the bedside and beyond.
Our program has curricular and extracurricular components. Reflective writing forms a significant component of the Professional Identity Formation thread in the MD curriculum. Electives in medical humanities range from exploration of narrative medicine to photo storytelling to improvisational acting. Students also conceive and complete individual or group projects for credit under the guidance of our faculty.
Extracurricular activities include a wide array of writing and narrative medicine workshops—some led by students—for students, residents, and hospital staff. “Narrative Medicine Talks” is our regular speaker series, and we convene fall and spring Story Slams for the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and Temple Hospital Community.
Our program gives medical students and physicians skills and opportunities to reflect on their experiences, to find and celebrate meaning in their work, and to appreciate the value of the patient’s story in patient care.
We encourage publication and dissemination of our work in medical journals and the lay press. A narrative medicine page on the LKSOM website is home to much of our student writing, and each year students compile and publish The Pulse, our local literary magazine.
Stories are an indispensable part of medicine. Along with the physician’s touch, they are at the core of the patient-physician relationship. Stories have the power to heal, inspire, build relationships and change the world.