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Power of patient storytelling
  1. Alice-May Purkiss
  1. Beyond Arts, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Alice-May Purkiss, NON_ACADEMIC Institution, Beyond Arts, London, UK; alicemaypurkiss{at}

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Humans thrive on stories. They are how we make decisions, how we make sense of the world, how we figure out our place in it all. But in clinical settings, patient stories can be lacking. Medics are often thinly stretched and may only scratch the surface of their patients’ experiences. The system does not afford time for storytelling in a clinical setting when appointments are only 15 minutes long and there is a list of life-saving to-dos to be done. Patients themselves may be less willing to share with their doctors their full experience, afraid of taking up their already precious time or nervous to criticise those who are saving their lives.

But the power of storytelling is huge. When we started AfterThoughts,1 a podcast focused entirely on the stories of young people who have been through cancer, we knew that. What we did not realise was just how powerful it could be for medical professionals too.

The power of stories is not just an abstract concept for artists though. It has proven benefits for the participants. Researcher James Pennebaker has done an enormous amount of work on the power of storytelling, to process psychological trauma—something we know many young adults with cancer struggle with.2

Narrative medicine (the more formal phrase for ‘patient stories’) supports medical professionals to respond to suffering …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests The podcast at the centre of the piece is produced by Beyond Arts, run by the author and a colleague (Toby Peach).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.