The power of the narrative and healing

November 14, 2013

Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Vice-President of Finance and Administration, Pat Hibbitts, has been invited to attend a Narrative Medicine workshop at Columbia University this month.  Hibbitts, who in addition to being the VP of Finance and Administration at SFU is also an Education alumna, will be among those taking part.

What exactly is Narrative Medicine? It is a method that equips health care professionals with tools and skills to respond to the challenge of sociocultural, professional and economic factors that divide these professionals and their patients. 

Participants of the workshop can expect intense training in developing “attentive listening techniques, adopting others’ perspectives, accurate representation and reflective reasoning” (2013, Columbia University, Narrative Medicine Workshops).

For Hibbitts, her educational and professional lives have come full circle. It all began when she took part in a qualitative research course, a requirement for her Education Doctorate (EdD) program with the Faculty of Education here at SFU.

Hibbitts has long been interested in the human sciences and how people can share a meaningful story with others with different backgrounds and experiences. She believes there’s a whole narrative methodology behind storytelling.

For her doctoral thesis, she answered the question, “What is the parental experience of school, more so, what is the mother’s experience?” She wrote a personal narrative, a collection of 48 vignettes — a mother’s ideological inquiry — that reflected her feelings as a mother in her children’s schools.

She put forth her experiences so others could read them and contemplate their own teaching practice — or that it could help even one parent cope with the school system better.

While Hibbitts is busy today heading the Finance and Administration portfolio, she is still pursuing research in narrative storytelling. The next story she hopes to share is based on her personal experiences with the Canadian medical system as she helps her husband through his chronic illness.

She needed help getting started, so after some research she found the Narrative Medicine Program at Columbia University and saw it as a tremendous learning opportunity to help her write her next story. She wrote to the program administrators about her background and interest in the workshop, and was invited to participate.   

For this story, she wants to answer the overall question: “What happens to personhood when you’re a patient in the healthcare system?” After seeing a lack of personal connection between patients and their healthcare teams, and experiencing the same with her husband’s teams, Hibbitts plans to write narratives around healthcare as she did for her doctoral thesis. Although her stories were critical of the school system, Hibbitts sees criticism as an opportunity for others to learn, and she feels the same way about the healthcare vignettes she will produce.

Underlying questions she wants to answer through her narrative include:

How do the patients who don’t have the proper resources make the right decisions for themselves? Who helps them? How do they cope?

How do we bring back the concept of patient-centered care?

How do we apply the resources in our medical system effectively so that we get the best and make the most out of them?

How do we break down professional barriers in our system? What does the concept of professionalism mean and where does that lead?

Hibbitts plans to share her story through relationships she builds in the Narrative Medicine Workshop. She hopes to gain new insight into how and why medical systems work. Most importantly, Hibbitts wants to learn more about the preservation of personhood for the patient. As Hibbitts stated, “That’s [personhood] what I want to explore. What can we do differently to preserve that?”   

We wish Pat all the best as she embarks on this learning opportunity and are looking forward to reading her forthcoming narratives!