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Beyond the Stethoscope

Physicians are no strangers to appreciation from their patients, but autograph requests have long remained in the realm of celebrities. That’s no longer the case, as residents and attending physicians in the Department of Medicine's Division of General Internal Medicine at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) published the third edition of Cuentos, their annual humanities magazine, June 14.

It was almost a year ago when April Barbour, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of internal medicine at SMHS and director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at GW’s Medical Faculty Associates (MFA), received the surprising request from a patient who had picked up a copy of Cuentos (Spanish for “stories”) in the waiting room before her appointment. The patient had read Barbour’s short essay “Mysteries,” which accompanied her photo from a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru, and was so impressed that she wanted Barbour to autograph the piece. “At their last visit, the patient and her husband asked me to save them a copy of the new issue – autographed, of course!” recalls Barbour.

Adam Possner, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine, who has served as the faculty advisor to Cuentos since joining SMHS in 2010, says that the magazine allows patients to see the human side of their physicians. “It’s important to note that this is a non-pharmaceutical, non-device manufacturer supported endeavor,” Possner says of the internally-funded Cuentos. “It’s really coming out of the MFA’s coffers as a way to show our support for the humanities and for showcasing a side of our residents and attending physicians that patients may not otherwise appreciate.”

This year’s edition, which features 51 stories, paintings, poems, and photographs from 48 unique authors, is organized around four themes: The World Within the Self, Medical Reflections, The World Outside the Self, and On the Importance of Family. A new section of the magazine, Cuentos Alumni, provides alumni with an opportunity to continue contributing to the publication.

Possner emphasizes the supportive nature of his role in the publication, which is a resident-driven endeavor. Cuentos’ five resident co-editors for the 2013 edition were Sylvia Gonsahn-Bollie, M.D., Nancy Maaty, M.D., Ashley Freeman, M.D., Jessica Davis, M.D., and Meena Hasan, M.D.

Maaty, B.A. ’06, M.D. ’10, G.M.E. ’13, a senior editor whose poem “Nothing Remains” appears in this edition, says that she appreciates the opportunity for self-reflection that Cuentos provides. “Life doesn’t stop when you’re in residency,” Maaty says. “We [in the medical field] tend to overlook the fact that we need to be able to express ourselves to be healthy.” At the same time, she says, her participation in the journal offers her a diverse perspective on her interactions with patients. “Cuentos really helps us tune in to being able to take care of a patient as a whole.”

Alan Wasserman, M.D., M.A.C.P., Eugene Meyer Professor of Medicine and chair, Department of Medicine at SMHS, and president of the GW Medical Faculty Associates, says that he has been an active supporter of Cuentos for the past three years because he believes that the art of medicine extends beyond just seeing patients. “It makes me very proud to show off the talented individuals we have in the Department of Medicine and provide them an outlet to express themselves,” Wasserman says.

Possner, whose interest in the humanities was fostered throughout his own medical education, finds that multifaceted people tend to make the best all-around physicians. “We believe in training people here who are the kind of physicians we’d want for family members, so we need to not only encourage them to read journals and do research and be on top of the latest and greatest, but also to celebrate the human experience and do things outside of medicine.”

To view Cuentos 2013, please click here.

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