“It’s such a shame that you’ve got all this data, and it goes unpublished … others need to benefit from our results!”
This statement is often repeated, in different forms, across all medicine departments, about the abundance of data from hospitals and clinics. This data, which can be utilized for research purposes, identifying emerging trends, and drawing new conclusions, often goes unpublished, especially in underfunded settings or countries.
Medical schools worldwide place great importance on conducting research. Most medical schools teach the basics of research in health care and require students to complete at least one research project before graduation. Residency and fellowship programs around the world, to different extents, also place great emphasis on incorporating research into all clinical work.
One of the commonly used justifications to motivate clinicians to publish and get involved in research is their unique and huge exposure to various cases in clinical settings and the different ways these exposures can be “invested in” to produce useful results and good papers.
Similarly, another type of exposure, almost exclusive to the medical setting, often goes dismissed or, worse, purposefully ignored.
As workers in the health care field, we have privileged access to some of the most vulnerable moments of patients, and some of the most intense human experiences, that others outside health care institutions rarely cross.
No other field allows access to the unique and fragile moments at the beginning and end of life.
We get to witness regular people, otherwise shielded in their suits and boundaries, become completely exposed and fragile when dealing with the troughs and peaks of life.
There is no other job where you can access and be part of the moments when parents hold their new child in their arms for the first time, where family or friends welcome their loved one after a dangerous surgery or procedure, or where patients open their eyes for the first time after a near-death experience and process all of that.
No other specialty allows access to the moments where family members say their final goodbyes, ask for a last request or favor, or even say or confess their regrets or content with the lives they led.
These experiences are all too common for any young physician, nurse, or medical or other health care student who spent enough time at bedside care.
This kind of unique exposure is a goldmine and should not be wasted.
Imagine having such privileged access to a large database of human experiences through witnessing the raw reactions of patients from variable backgrounds and classes to intense troughs and peaks of life. Instead of utilizing this exposure to shuffle your priorities in life and help others benefit from it, you dismiss it.
Narrative medicine is important as an effective tool to deal with this intense exposure. Medical schools have a role in highlighting this importance through providing classes, and perhaps modules, dealing with artistic and literary reflections of these experiences. This would also be a useful tool for medical students and residents to de-stress and healthily express their emotions, especially in a field plagued by a burnout epidemic.
The most beautiful forms of art and literature often come from places of suffering. As health care workers, we may be fortunate enough to transform much of the suffering we witness and experience ourselves into beautiful pieces to share with others. All we need is a nudge in the right direction and some training on tools to do so.
Najat Fadlallah is a pediatric resident in Lebanon.