Recognizing clinical medicine as a narrative undertaking fortified by learnable skills in understanding stories has helped doctors and teachers to face otherwise vexing problems in medical practice and education in the areas of professionalism, medical interviewing, reflective practice, patient-centered care, and self-awareness. The emerging practices of narrative medicine give clinicians fresh methods with which to make contact with patients and to come to understand their points of view. This essay provides a brief review of narrative theory regarding the structure of stories, suggesting that clinical texts contain and can reveal information in excess of their plots. Through close reading of the form and content of two clinical texts—an excerpt from a medical chart and a portion of an audiotaped interview with a medical student—and a reflection on a short section of a modernist novel, the author suggests ways to expand conventional medical routines of recognizing the meanings of patients’ situations. The contributions of close reading and reflective writing to clinical practice may occur by increasing the capacities to perceive and then to represent the perceived, thereby making available to a writer that which otherwise might remain out of awareness. A clinical case is given to exemplify the consequences in practice of adopting the methods of narrative medicine. A metaphor of the activated cellular membrane is proposed as a figure for the effective clinician/patient contact. From Publisher
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