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AMA J Ethics. 2017 Mar 1;19(3):304-311. doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.3.msoc1-1703.

From Particularities to Context: Refining Our Thinking on Illness Narratives.

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Annie Le, MPH, is a second-year medical student at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine.
Kara Miller, MA, is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside.
Associate professor at the University of California, Riverside, and the associate director of the Center for Healthy Communities, and a cultural and medical anthropologist with research interests in the political economy of health and the role of narrative in medical encounters.


This paper examines how illness narratives are used in medical education and their implications for clinicians' thinking and care of patients. Ideally, collecting and reading illness narratives can enhance clinicians' sensitivity and contextual thinking. And yet these narratives have become part of institutionalizing cultural competency requirements in ways that tend to favor standardization. Stereotyping and reductionistic thinking can result from these pedagogic approaches and obscure structural inequities. We end by asking how we might best teach and read illness narratives to fulfill the ethical obligations of listening and asking more informative clinical interview questions that can better meet the needs of patients and the community.

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