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Narrative medicine: learning through stories
  1. Chris Degeling, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS
  1. Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, Sydney School of Public Health, K25 Level 1, Medical Foundation Building, 94-96 Parramatta Road,
    University of Sydney, Sydney, 2006, Australia
  1. e-mail chris.degelingr{at}

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Animal owners typically speak as storytellers: they communicate concerns about their animals through a narrative. Chris Degeling argues that, rather than being a distraction, a better understanding of the nature of storytelling can help veterinarians build relationships that are both morally and clinically valuable

THE past decade has seen the re-emergence in human medicine of a close concern for patient narratives – how people tell their stories in clinical contexts. This move to what has become known as narrative medicine is in part an attempt to reaffirm that there is more to the ‘art’ of healing than pills, tests and numbers. Narrative analysis has been applied to three related lines of medical inquiry. These can be loosely described as investigating: the role of narrative in clinical reasoning; narrative as a guide for clinical ethics; and narrative and the nature of patient identity (Greenhalgh and Hurwitz 1999). Acknowledging the obvious limitations of autobiography and storytelling as forms of evidence, how healthcare providers respond to the affective aspects of what their patients say during a consultation is of importance to patient outcomes – not just in terms of patient compliance, but also in terms of promoting interventions that are sympathetic to the way people choose to live their lives (Greenhalgh 1999).

The key insight is that people typically speak as storytellers (Hurwitz 2000 …

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