The Impact of an Unconventional Elective in Narrative Medicine and Pediatric Psycho-oncology on Humanism in Medical Students

F. Jeffrey Lorenz, Matthew C. Darok, Lisa Ho, Maria S. Holstrom-Mercader, Andrew S. Freiberg, Cheryl A. Dellasega

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Over the course of medical school, students’ optimism and hopefulness often devolve into a cynical view of medicine that continues throughout clinical rotations and beyond (Neumann et al., Acad Med 86(8):996–1009, 2011). Here, we present a qualitative evaluation of a novel immersive elective in pediatric psycho-oncology coupled with narrative medicine and its impact on students. Participants were third- and fourth-year medical students who were relieved of traditional clinical duties. Alternatively, they shadowed pediatric cancer patients, keeping narrative journals of their observations and insights. A trained team of pre-clinical medical students and faculty conducted a retrospective analysis of 120 journals written between 2008 and 2019. They compared recurring concepts to assess how blending experiential learning and reflective writing influenced the attitudes and behaviors of students. Consistent themes emerged related to developing a rich understanding of patient experiences, a humanistic appreciation of the context of illness, the ability to meaningfully reflect on insights to critically ill children, and an appreciation for the unique learning opportunity. Additionally, families expressed gratitude for the students’ attentiveness to their emotional needs. By the conclusion of the elective, most students discovered that they had reignited their intrinsic empathic behaviors and were provided with beneficial insights that they believed would continue into future rotations. Experiential teaching methods paired with narrative reflection may be a valuable and therapeutic tool to learn the intricacies of the patient perspective, with the potential to enhance humanism in students during a critical time in their medical training when empathy tends to drift. Longitudinal and quantitative studies are warranted to better understand the degree and duration of specific benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1798-1805
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Cancer Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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