December 14, 2019

Narration is a Necessity

By Josiane Joseph

By: Josiane Joseph

Dr. Hedy S. Wald, a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at Brown University, visited Mayo Clinic in December for a selection of lectures open to trainees and other personnel. I made the time to attend her narrative writing workshop where she discussed the benefits of reflective writing and allowed attendees time to respond to prompts. There was no way to anticipate what the hour-long experience would entail. Many biomedical professionals (like me) are socialized to believe leisure activities are a luxury; yet with Dr. Wald leaping around the room and speed-talking about previous publications and her views on the role narration has on performance, I was nearly convinced that daily written reflections were a necessity. Dr. Wald’s ideas highlight why it is essential to have a diversity of thoughts and behaviors in academic institutions. Dr. Wald's engaging lecture style involved ricocheting from desk-to-desk and eventually sitting down to listen intently to audience experiences. Her dynamic behavior modeled the key points that I believe she came to impart: taking time to reflect on your life experiences will 1) improve your quality of life, and 2) enhance your interactions with others.

Hedy S. Wald, Ph.D.

The healthcare community is one of the most varied networks of individuals working towards a common goal. I saw this firsthand as I listened to Hedy Wald, Ph.D. amongst genetic counselors, perfusionists, and bioethics professionals all working towards providing excellent patient care. Each role is significant; in training for these roles, according to Dr. Wald, we are “constructing an identity”. Part of doing so should involve taking time to stop, think about your being, and what you are becoming because “we don’t learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience”. To be present to what takes place in our lives we must take time to reflect on our days and be in the moment with what we do. From my experience, it is during the rare occasions where I sit alone in an evening’s solitude that poignant memories and current circumstances coalesce together to reveal who I will become. This clarity brings me peace and reassurance that I am working towards a transformative purpose. I have already benefited from reflection, but at the advice of Dr. Wald writing down ideas would enhance or prolong reflective benefits. Previous studies have characterized how reflective writing improves mental and physical well-being (1). Dr. Wald spoke of a Harvard study that indicated 15 minutes of reflection improved performance at work. Fifteen minutes a day seems a small investment in order to increase our enjoyment of work (which many of us spend much of our weeks doing) and to understand our lives on a deeper level.

One theme particularly emphasized by Dr. Wald is that through reflective practice we may gain the following essential benefits: mindful presence (we should all think about our presence before each engagement), emotional intelligence and insight, recognition of dilemmas, and meaning making transformative learning. For those concerned about inclusivity, these characteristics are crucial. Many of us move through the world reacting to others without considering the effects of our actions on those individuals. In example, during medical school training another student and I were told—by someone contributing to our training—that my body was a perfect example of someone healthy. The other medical student was clearly uncomfortable with the illusion that being heavier implies unhealthy habits. I also showed my discomfort through a half-grimace (masked by an awkward smile). Yet the commenter most likely never took a moment to acknowledge or reflect on the tension that his unconscious bias was creating for us as students. Unbeknownst to him, the other student was far more active and health oriented than I could ever dream of being. When people make unnecessary comments, such as those about weight or body shape, and do not hold themselves accountable by reflecting on the outcome, then others are left to sort through negative perceptions of themselves. Judgmental behavior should not be a part of a professional environment. There is no simpler way to create inclusivity besides being reflective of our experiences.

In light of her discussion, Dr. Wald has inspired me to go beyond reflection into the practice of narration. The good news is that there are a few avenues to write about and share our experiences at Mayo Clinic: a) for anyone at Mayo there is The Healing Milieu, and b) for students there is The Tempest. The incentive to write about our experiences is obvious—narration appears to improve our lives and developing a reflective writing habit could also improve our interactions with others.

References:

  1. Pennebaker, J. W., & Chung, C. K. (2007). Expressive writing, emotional upheavals, and health. Foundations of health psychology, 263-284.

a. The Healing Milieu: Submit personal narrative/auto-ethnography, poetry, prose or visual art capturing vulnerable moments and/or times of reflection and growth in which the author tells a story of either: (1) their own experience of, or (2) their experience observing others benefit from the art, leisure, parks/gardens, enjoyable distractions, and meaning-making reflective spaces located on the Mayo Clinic campuses or surrounding areas. Personal narrative and prose submissions should be within 600-1000 words. Submissions may include up to five academic references. Submissions should also include a title and a biographical sketch. Email submissions to humanitiesrochester@mayo.edu by January 20, 2020.

b. The Tempest: Regardless of experience, ALL are welcome to submit one or more pieces. Submissions may be: non-fiction essays, creative writing works, original poetry, original art work, original photography. Submission should be emailed to any one of the editors (Patricia Bai, Andrea Collins, Noelle Driver, Kevin Miller, Sam Rouleau, or Ericka Wheeler) by Sunday, March 1st, 2020 in order to allow for time to provide edits and feedback prior to formatting and publication.

About the Author: Josiane Joseph is a Haitian-American M.D.-Ph.D. student at Mayo Clinic. She was born in Miami, Florida and earned her B.S. at the University of Florida in 2015. During her free time she enjoys movies, writing, attending church, and learning about what makes other individuals unique. Josiane values discussions of meaningful issues and looks forward to sharing diverse views with others.

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