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Narrative medicine is a teaching methodology that is uniquely suited to the openly ideological teaching of antiracism, antisexism, and anticlassism. This article is based on a medical school humanities seminar on women's illness narratives that was involved in this sort of cultural critique.
The seminar was framed as a course on reading and writing the body. The mind/body dichotomy not only is what differentiates mindful physicians from body-focused patients; it also has distinctly gendered overtones. Since science itself is constructed as mindful and male while women are supposedly emotional and body-focused, women physicians often find that acceptance into the fraternity of medicine requires a disembodiment from their reproductive, sexual, and otherwise physical selves. During this seminar, second-year female medical students not only gained an empathic understanding of women patients' experiences by reading pathographies; they turned this empathy inward toward oftentimes fractionalized body-selves, by writing about their own bodily experiences with illness and caregiving. Class discussions based on these reading and writing exercises gave students the space to articulate forces of control and disembodiment in medicine.
This type of seminar demonstrates that narrative medicine as a discipline can look beyond solely patient-focused narratives and integrate a simultaneously politicized and personalized understanding of medicine. Such an understanding emerges from critically examining medical culture through narratives, while integrating exercises in self-reflection that recognize that not only patients but also physicians bring varied cultural, class, gendered, and sexual histories to their medical encounters.