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A model for abolitionist narrative medicine pedagogy
  1. Pooja M Varman1,2,
  2. Marcus P Mosley1,3,
  3. Billie Christ1,4
  1. 1 Narrative Medicine, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA
  2. 2 Creighton University School of Medicine, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
  3. 3 CUNY School of Medicine at The City College of New York, New York, New York, USA
  4. 4 Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY), Aurora, Colorado, USA
  1. Correspondence to Pooja M Varman, Creighton University School of Medicine, Omaha, NE 68124, USA; pooja.varman{at}


To use narrative medicine as a means for action towards social justice in medical education, we need a renewal of our pedagogical methods that grapples not just with the worlds concocted within a text, but also our own world beyond the text. We propose a model for narrative medicine pedagogy that is oriented towards abolition. First, the composition of the classroom and syllabus must employ radical inclusion through recruitment of diverse voices and selection of diverse texts. After a traditional close reading is initiated, conscious expansion should take place through introduction of a text’s context and current social structures. Whenever internal and external conflicts arise, active self-interrogation should be encouraged through José Esteban Muñoz’s ‘disidentification’.

We present relevant critiques of narrative medicine, case studies from workshop experiences, and close readings of selected narrative medicine texts to unmask limitations in the standard narrative medicine workshop format and illustrate the utility of our abolitionist model. The model we propose offers methods for disrupting long-standing patterns of inclusion (and exclusion) and radically transforming the structure of spaces and ideas produced within them. When new texts are added to the syllabus, they should be accompanied by hermeneutics that can adequately attend to them. Abolitionist narrative medicine pedagogy should stimulate practitioners to examine their own role in social structures that surround the text and the setting of close reading and, ultimately, to dismantle harmful structures. We offer strategies for confronting discomfort without requiring an abandonment of identity, context or content. Instead, holding complexity works towards the long-term aim of transforming practitioners to think critically about structural violence that prevents universal and equitable access to compassionate healthcare. Using this model for abolition, we hope practitioners of narrative medicine will be equipped with more dynamic tools to engage with texts and patients within and beyond the scope of the narrative medicine workshop.

  • medical humanities
  • medical education
  • queer theory
  • narrative medicine
  • cultural studies

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  • Contributors PMV, MPM and BJC are responsible for conceptualising the idea for this manuscript. PMV and MPM conceptualised the model presented, and PMV designed the corresponding flow chart. PMV was the primary author for the 'Gathering of bodies out of place' and 'Conscious expansion' sections. MPM was the primary author for the 'Selecting and unmasking a text' section. BJC was the primary author for the 'Self-interrogation' section. PMV, MPM and BJC are responsible for writing the 'Introduction' and 'Conclusion' and for revising the final manuscript. PMV is the guarantor of this paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.