‘The Examined Life’ and the Printed Word

Today marks the third and final day of The Examined Life Conference: The Writing, Humanities, and Arts of Medicine, hosted at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa.

Rare medical book textAmong the gorgeous 70-degree weather and the nostalgia of walking along the paved pathways of a college campus, in the last three days, I feel like I have trespassed on history, found a deeper self-identity with my chronic illness, tripped on the psychedelic words of poetry, and discovered a new direction for health care reform.

I admit I wasn’t familiar with the arena of narrative medicine before arriving here. In fact, I wasn’t sure what to expect coming from a creative writing background myself and only having been pushed into the field of health care by my disease. But amidst fellow creative writers and those managing their own chronic conditions were health care professionals writing about it. Some write about their own personal stories — others attempt to peel back the layers of patient stories.

For the first time since working with CancerFree KIDS back in Cincinnati, I felt the power of writing, not just for my own therapeutic means, but for those who may not know how to tell their story, but so desperately want to. And how that story can change the future of a system that currently encourages disparity, neglect, and hopelessness.

I’m not usually such a “rah rah” person, but I am introspective and what surprised me most about this conference, which was coindentally meant for my own professional development, was that it encouraged a personal development. It made me remember why I wanted to be involved in the health care field in the first place.

Our system may be broken, but here I’ve met individuals working to improve literacy in state prisons, teach empathy to medical students, deal with potentially life-threatening illnesses through writing, share health delivery system reforms efforts through podcasts, and connect with one another not just on the health care professional level, but on the intimate creative level.

These are just my initial thoughts, and even if I’m never able to return, I know my personal and professional life will forever be shaped by the words of the examined life.

Within my carry-on, I bring some of those printed words back with me to DC.

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