It Gets Easier: The Examined Life Conference 2018, Day 3

On the last day of The Examined Life Conference, presenters and MDs challenged me to keep going and to keep improving.

In the morning, Dr. Ann Green and Dr. Edward Fristrom lead a workshop highlighting their work with pre-med students. Their work centers around listening and narrative skills. This seems essential, but it’s even more important when dealing with younger students who tend to save the world first and ask questions later.
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When You Hear Your Own Story: The Examined Life Conference 2018, Day 2

Dr. David Thoele introduced me to The Examined Life, and suggested that I submit a proposal for last year’s conference. Today, he and fellow staff from the Advocate system presented their work on how to help patients process their experiences and relieve stress.

His project started by simply encouraging patients to write a journal. When most patients didn’t respond to the open-ended “Write something!”, he looked for other ways to encourage reflection. Eventually, David began doing a 3-minute exercise which involves three simple writing prompts. The 3-Minute Mental Makeover (3MMM) was born.
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“So I sat and listened”: The Examined Life Conference 2018, Day 1

At the opening session of this year’s Examined Life Conference, a genetics specialist read a reflection about a difficult case. Her writing told us about her quest to diagnose a child’s disease no one else had been able to figure out, and how her own mental health suffered in the process.

In the end, she reflected, it wasn’t a brilliant medical insight that changed the lives of the patients’ family. It was a few minutes alone with the child’s mother, who confessed the care of her severely disabled child was becoming too much to bear. After finishing reading her piece, she thanked us in turn for the chance to be heard. The simple fact she told us about the encounter kept coming back to me: “So I sat and listened.”
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The Examined Life Conference 2017

The Examined Life Conference is a gathering for the medical humanities hosted by The University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. The conference is focused mainly on the intersection of writing and medicine, and is cross-pollinated with the literary chops of organizations like The Iowa Writers’ Workshop and The Iowa Review.

Dr. David Thoele, the Director of Narrative Medicine at Advocate Children’s Hospital, has been going for years. He introduced me to the conference, and convinced me to submit a workshop.

Now that the conference is behind us, here are some thoughts as I reflect on what I took away:
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