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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Writing the Other: An Exercise in Empathy


From the first days of medical school, students are socialized into the medical environment. They are trained to view patients as the “other.” The medical humanities have been introduced into the curriculum of most medical schools as a means to counteract the possible effects of this “othering.” In particular, writing exercises have been adopted to help students understand the perspectives of their patients and to consider their own responses to experiences during medical training. A writing seminar was offered to first and second year medical students that employed imaginative writing, specifically point of view narratives. Each week the students considered different perspectives of many individuals involved in patient care and then wrote stories from these perspectives. Students shared and discussed these stories. The students’ feedback indicated that these exercises helped them to empathize with the subjects of their stories and to feel more connected to other members of the class.

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