Public Release: 

First-of-kind seminar teaches teamwork to varied medical professionals

CUMC's Program in Narrative Medicine, with $1 million Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Grant, to enroll students from nursing, dental, medical and public health schools in collaborative program

Edelman Public Relations

New York, NY, January 18 - Advances in medical technology, changes in health care delivery and an aging, ailing population have all made the practice of medicine increasingly dependent on clinical collaboration. Yet most health care students rarely gain understanding or even exposure to the many other types of specialists, professionals, administrators, or statisticians they will deal with in the real world. Today, Columbia University Medical Center's (CUMC) Program in Narrative Medicine is introducing a more collaborative approach to education with a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary, interprofessional seminar on teamwork in medicine.

The semester-long seminar is supported by a $1 million, four year grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and includes four students each from the CUMC's College of Dental Medicine, College of Physicans & Surgeons, Mailman School of Public Health and the School of Nursing. Titled "The Cultures of Health, Illness and Health Care," the seminar will be co-taught by senior faculty from each of the four schools, using collaborative methods to equip the students with the skills to function effectively in multi-disciplinary health care teams.

Dr. Rita Charon, Executive Director of CUMC's Program in Narrative Medicine, will lead the seminar, which will use the social sciences, population studies, and the arts to develop in students a wide and deep comprehension of health, illness and care. Skills taught will include understanding and embracing the cultural diversity of patients and co-workers; communicating clearly to patients, families and other professionals; expressing opinions, knowledge and responsibilities clearly to patients, families and co-workers; and collaborating respectfully with other caregivers to ensure a common understanding.

"After this seminar, a nurse will have the confidence and skills to discuss a patient's fears about a risky treatment with the rest of the medical team. A dental student whose patient is on blood-thinning medication will understand the importance of coordinating care with the internal medicine physician, and be able to frame the conversation appropriately. A medical student will know to seek assistance from a nursing assistant about how best to communicate with a patient with little command of English," said Dr. Charon.

"The Cultures of Health, Illness and Health Care" is a follow-up to a 2010 Macy grant that funded a group of senior faculty members from CUMC's four schools - including associate deans, senior vice presidents, center directors, and full-time clinicians - to investigate the basic and applied sciences of health care team development in two-hour bimonthly seminar sessions. The result of these meetings is the development of a community of practice which fosters open dialogue and exploratory interdisciplinary work.

The seminar will also build on training already emphasized in The Program in Narrative Medicine, which helps doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists and others who work with ill patients and families improve the efficacy of care.


About CUMC's Program in Narrative Medicine

The Program in Narrative Medicine (PNM) was established in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University in 1996 to break down barriers in health care by providing practitioners with the clinical tools to listen, encourage patient stories, honor the meaning of their patients' and their own stories, and grant permission to share thoughts and concerns. Inaugurated and directed by Rita Charon, M.D., Ph.D. as an integrated program that transcends the divisions that separate Columbia's academic departments from one another, the PNM brings together health care professionals, patients, faculty and researchers in new and exciting ways. It unifies disciplines in a shared University goal - improving health care using the power of the narrative. As a result, patients are treated more empathetically and have the opportunity to engage more fully with their own care; understanding and articulating it beyond a description of physical symptoms.

About the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation

Since 1930, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation has worked to improve health care in the United States. Founded by Kate Macy Ladd in memory of her father, prominent philanthropist Josiah Macy Jr., the Foundation supports projects that broaden and improve health professional education. It is now the only national foundation solely dedicated to this mission.

Diana Torres-Bixby

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