Purpose: Narrative medicine in healthcare education is used to promote a deeper understanding of the illness experience to promote compassionate, patient-centered care. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore first year physical therapy students’ perceived learning after completing a first-person illness narrative assignment within a required Whole Person Care course prior to clinical experience. Method: Fifty-nine first-year doctor of physical therapy students completed an illness narrative assignment of a known individual with an illness experience from the first-person perspective. Data from students’ reflections on completing the illness narrative assignment were analyzed. Themes organically emerged from the open-ended prompt “What do you feel you learned writing the illness narrative?” Results: Four primary themes of perceived student learning emerged: deeper understanding of oneself, cognizance of values, understanding the illness experience of others, and recognition of future professional role. Three of these primary themes correlate with constructs of professional identity formation. Results substantiate previous studies advocating the use of narrative medicine to facilitate patient-centered care and professional identity development in healthcare education. Conclusions: A single illness narrative assignment with reflection created deeper understanding of the human illness experience for patient-centered care and supported physical therapy student professional identity development prior to clinical experience. This study adds to the limited research on effectiveness of narrative in physical therapy curricula. It also informs educators of a pedagogical approach early in curricula to leverage student professional identity formation. The study additionally answers the recommendations for research on effective implementation of humanities, early integration of narrative pedagogy, and the creation of learning spaces to support student professional identity formation.

Author Bio(s)

Jeffrey A. Gang Mdiv, DMin, is an assistant professor at Loma Linda University School of Religion.

Gina R. Gang PT, MSPT, DPT, is an assistant professor at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions, Department of Physical Therapy.






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