A teacher’s journey through, along with and for Narrative Medicine – Speech by Nicoletta Suter

Between the 19th and the 21st of May in Porto (Portugal) took place the “Humanism in Surgery” Symposium. The last day was dedicated to The European Narrative Medicine Society (EUNAMES) Congress. We are happy to shere some of the speeches and slides of the participant.

Nicoletta Suter, SIMEN Italy

Good morning and thank you so much for this opportunity to share my NM experience with you. I hope to be able to touch some interests of yours. 

I live and work in a little town in the North East of Italy, between Venice and Trieste.

I was born as a nurse, and I specialized in education, counseling, and coaching.

My encounter with Narrative Medicine goes back to 2011, when, thanks to Rita Charon I could visit  Columbia University, attend several workshop in NY and acquire the Narrative Medicine International certification, an extraordinary experience that enhanced my competence in the field and nurtured my mind and heart.

My commitment to Narrative Medicine is related to the different roles I have:  

  • head of a CME (continuous medical education) center, in Italy, my institution has 4000 emploees
  • member of SIMeN  excecutive board (Italian Society of Narrative Medicine)
  • teacher both in CME and in some academic courses (Nurse’s degree, Masters…)
  • Columbia workshop facilitator   

In my speech, I will focus on a slice of my experience, because meaningful for me, me as a teacher and facilitator during the pandemic. 

I want to represent what happened in the last two years with this image. Due to the pandemic, the world went belly-up. In the beginning, we were all astonished and paralyzed. Narrative Medicine gave me the tools to cope with this breakout both professionally and personally. In the image, the vase is broken, but life pushes and beats everywhere. I felt life had to be promoted and protected, people needed attention, listening, compassion, and care, and NM could give a fundamental contribution to all this.

I was asked to speak through concrete experiences, I’ll tell two of them.

First, in April 2020 Columbia University launched the online NM workshops in five languages, English, Polish, Spanish, Greek, and Italian. Along with other colleagues, I was asked to facilitate these virtual workshops to support the Italian Community coping with isolation, loneliness, and forced distancing.

Our group of facilitators chose the slogan “Even From Afar, To You So Close”.

Since then, we are still carrying on these workshops and over time we put together a community, made of NM friends and novices.

Every workshop is realized according to the Narrative Medicine pedagogic method: close reading/looking of a text, a prompted writing exercise, sharing writings, and giving reciprocal feedback. Every session is carefully prepared and led by two facilitators, who are volunteers.

At the beginning of 2021, we published an article on Intima, a Narrative Medicine journal, as the result of our reflections and meditations on this experience. Every workshop is a sort of clearing for our participants, who can give voice to their thoughts, emotions, and reflections.

This has become a space of reciprocity where we can read, write, and share in absence of judgment, where we can meet the otherness and her diversity and vulnerability, and cope with the ambiguities and uncertainties of our complex world. 

This virtual space is still helping us make NM known and appreciated in Italy, where the Narrative Medicine community is growing more and more.

Always during the pandemic, as a member of SIMeN, (the Italian Narrative Medicine society) among the many activities that we are carrying on, with Stefania Polvani, our president, and Paolo Trenta, we started a new educational program for Narrative Medicine workshop facilitators. To trigger a change in the mainstream health culture, first it is necessary to «train the trainers», we believe.

This program focuses on the narrative andragogic method, the same I studied at Columbia. Participants are taught to implement laboratories based on close reading and expressive/reflective and creative writing; to choose and use the medical humanities (literature, poetry, and prose, film, music, visual arts but also illness narratives and pathographies), to trigger reflection and sharing, to enhance creativity as well as to manage the communication in small groups,  to make the experience of NM’s three movements: attention, representation, and affiliation. 

The method is based on collaborative, transformative, and experiential learning:  facilitators learn to co-lead, generously share their competence and experience, to feel committed to promoting social justice, in healthcare too. Our program relies on the fundamental values of care and multi–professional.

In two years we have prepared 90 facilitators, 35 of them have also attended an advanced course. Participants are for most health providers, but there are also people who belong to other fields involved with care.   We are now preparing a research protocol to evaluate the impacts of this training. In Italy our facilitators are an active community, the hope is to create future connections through Europe too. 

Thanks to my journey, along, with and for Narrative Medicine, my posture in life has changed. She upset my beliefs and convictions several times and gave me a new impulse to deepen my reflection on crucial questions: diversity, vulnerability, social justice, humility, creativity, hope, kindness, and resilience.

Thanks to NM I improved my teaching methods and I felt committed to promoting a narrative community in my country and beyond, that’s why I participate in EUNAMES and in other international groups. In fact, it is very important to adopt a systemic approach to enhance the narrative competence at different levels, in space and time.

The European Narrative Medicine Society was born from an idea of the Italian Society of Narrative Medicine (SIMeN), and  it is an association of non-profit researchers dedicated to the investigation of Medical Humanities and Humanities for Health in the medical, health care, social services.

The purpose of this European Society is to promote and strengthen dialogues, discussions on the present and the future of Medical Humanities and narrative medicine, for health professionals, researchers (both academics and non-academics), humanists, teachers and other professionals coming from every branch. All this with the aim to contribute to improve both the well-being of people who suffer from a physical condition or a mental illness, and the health workers, the caregivers, the social services and the citizenship.

VISIT THE EUNAMES PAGE TO LEARN MORE: https://www.medicinanarrativa.eu/eunames


We are always welcoming new members from around Europe and happy to broaden our host member community with people fro around the world. If you want to join us, please send a short profile to the above email and we will be in touch.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.