Fiction in Residency Teaching

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

Fiction and poetry can be used to address hard-to-teach professional competencies like treating patients with compassion and coming to terms with the emotional demands of a medical career. The residency experience nonetheless presents challenges to using literature, including perceptions of irrelevance or insufficient practicality and straightforward dislike of reading fiction.

Literature-based teaching has been a required component of the behavioral sciences curriculum in the University of California Irvine Department of Family Medicine since 1998. The goals are for residents to learn how reading fiction can supplement their understanding of common psychosocial aspects of primary care medicine; to learn about behavioral science topics from a particular, local, and subjective perspective; to develop skills of emotional self-exploration and self-disclosure; to develop increased empathy for patients in difficult or frustrating medical situations; and to link the insights of literature to clinical experience.

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