This book offers an insightful, well-reasoned interpretation of the nature of medicine. Hunter, an English professor who teaches and coordinates humanities programs at a medical school, observed first-hand how an academic medical center functions--she joined various teams during their multiple rounds and conferences for two years. In sum, she "behaved rather like an ethnographer among a white-coated tribe." The resultant book details the profound importance of narrative in medicine.

Narrative is integral to the medical encounter, to communications by and about the patient, and to the structure and transmission of medical knowledge. For example, the patient's story is told to and interpreted by the physician, who then tells another story of the patient, in case format to other physicians, and records that story in a formulaic chart entry. Hunter observes that most of the rituals and traditions of medicine and medical training are narrative in structure, and explains why narratives such as cautionary tales, anecdotes, case reports and clinical-pathological conferences are central, not peripheral, to medicine. The thesis is further developed to maintain that, if the narrative structure of medicine is fully recognized by physicians, they will attend to their patients better and acknowledge the details and importance of their patients' individual life stories.


The theme issue, "Narrative and Medical Knowledge" (vol. 13, Spring, 1994) of the journal, Literature and Medicine, is edited by Hunter, and offers further perspectives on the intersections of narrative and medicine. It is a multidisciplinary issue and contains articles on a variety of topics, such as the ethical implications of narrative construction and collaborative storytelling in hospice work.


Princeton Univ. Press

Place Published

Princeton, N.J.



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