Guest post by Clara Colombatto, T’15

The daily life of a doctor is filled with reports, numbers, and forms. Opportunities to sit down with patients and listen to their stories are rare. Yet, “most of the information practitioners need to care for patients is contained in their stories,” says Dr. John Moses, a Duke pediatrician who founded the Documenting Medicine program two years ago.

medical bracelets

A still from Dr. Tera Cushman’s “How to See the Forest

Mike and Patsy holding hands

Mike and Patsy from “I Will Go With You,” by Dr. Lisa Jones.

The innovative idea that he had with photographer Liisa Ogburn, an instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies, was to encourage medical residents to document their experiences and gain insight into patients’ stories to become better doctors.  Eleven Duke resident physicians, one physician and one physician assistant gathered on June 5 to share documentary projects they completed this year.

“The best attending physicians are both vast repositories of data and good storytellers – people who can bring the numbers and the patient into focus at the same time” says anesthesiologist Tera Cushman, one of the filmmakers. In her documentary How to See the Forest and the Trees, she presents both readings of medical records and interviews of patients Annie and Olivia.

Works produced in Documenting Medicine are objective reports of current issues in healthcare, but also powerful learning tools: residents enhance their understanding of patients to represent their perspective in the best way possible.

In Spectrum, Dr. Kathleen Dunlap interviews the parents of her patient Isaac, and discovers the deep changes and contrasting emotions beyond a simple and almost mechanical diagnosis of autism.

Dr. Lisa Jones tells us a patient’s journey after her time at the hospital in I Will Go with You: Patsy’s Mission to Educate Others about Colorectal Cancer Screening.

These stories also reveal aspects of patients’ lives that are crucial in recovery beyond treatments and prescriptions: in Welcome to Crazy Camp by Dr. Stephanie Collier, Tom, a patient at Duke Hospital, tells us about the importance of patients’ sincere care and profound respect for each other in a psychiatric clinic. The most supportive and understanding friend for him was a young friend who  “made a whole lot of sense except for this one little part of her life where she thought the government had placed something in her brain that was trying to control her.”

Documenting Medicine is now accepting applications for the coming year, and is open to medical residents, but also to anyone working in healthcare who wishes to tell a medical story.