Of all the articles The Inquirer publishes, it’s very often the stories of patients, families, doctors and nurses dealing with health crises that resonate most deeply with our readers. And when those stories are first-person accounts, they can be especially powerful.
Storytelling enables us to be heard, recognized, and valued. And as we live through this pandemic, when time seems warped and everyone has felt isolated or overwhelmed at some point, sharing our experiences has become more vital than ever before.
That’s why we’re offering the third edition of our popular Telling Your Health Story event on Nov. 12, a free virtual daylong conference designed to help more storytellers find their voice and their audience. And, as happened in 2019 and 2020, the stars of the program will be the writers from the front lines, sharing their own experiences with writing books and articles, podcasting and teaching, to name just a few of the many ways we tell our stories.
The day will start with a popular pen-to-paper workshop led by Naomi Rosenberg, Temple University emergency physician and narrative medicine instructor, who this year will present with Michael Vitez, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Inquirer journalist, who now directs Temple’s narrative medicine program.
Participants last year called this creative writing exercise “extremely powerful” and “inspiring beyond words.” One later wrote that it “helped restore much needed confidence and purpose.”
Attendees will also hear from the physician and literary scholar who originated the narrative medicine field: Rita Charon, who is chair of medical humanities and ethics at Columbia University. Among her many books is Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness. “We clinicians have had to learn how to listen — or witness, or perceive, or absorb — all that patients transmit us of their illnesses and health and fears and hopes,” she said. “It is in the telling itself that the healing occurs”
At the conference, she will share stories, visual images and maybe music so participants can experience what she calls “the ‘clearing’ that narrative medicine creates.”
Nurses’ stories have provided Inquirer readers vital windows into the heartbreak and healing at area hospitals during the pandemic. This year’s program will feature three Philadelphia nurses, who will share their experiences of working through the pandemic and telling their stories to help them process feelings of burnout. Among them will be Tiffany M. Montgomery, who turned her story slam contribution to last year’s conference into an article on why diversity in nursing school faculty means better health outcomes.
We’ll also explore the role of storytelling in another important epidemic: Philadelphia’s addiction crisis. Addiction peer specialists will explain how telling personal stories lets them help people achieve and maintain recovery — an effort made even more difficult by pandemic isolation.
Inquirer health editor Charlotte Sutton will interview Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, on his new book, The Contagion Next Time, in which he challenges readers to examine how we can create a healthier, more equitable post-COVID society. “We have to come to see health as a public good,” he said in a recent Inquirer interview. “We have to recognize that your health and my health are produced by the same world. That is what compassion is.”
And our keynote event will feature perhaps the most visible face of health care in Philadelphia during COVID-19: Ala Stanford, physician and founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. Inquirer columnist Jenice Armstrong will talk with Stanford about the many stories she has heard and shared over the last 20 months as she’s worked to promote health and wellness for the city’s most vulnerable residents. And she’ll share what’s happening now at her new Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity.
We hope you’ll join us Nov. 12. For more details and tickets, go to inquirer.com/TYHS2021.