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“You never know what you can learn when treating a rash”: A med student on storytelling

grammys_rash_landscapeRuth Marks didn't expect to be dispensing medical advice when she returned to her grandparents' home during her second year of medical school. Yet, just minutes into her visit, she found herself offering suggestions to her grandmother, who had a painful rash.

The experience was memorable, Marks writes in the winter issue of Stanford Medicine magazine: "I was shocked at her willingness to trust me."

Marks was among a group of students and writers who spearheaded Stanford Medicine's first storytelling camping retreat last fall. At the event, she shared the story of her grandmother's rash, and:

After hearing my story, my peers described their own role reversals with family members, fears of causing unintended harm, and surprise at how seriously their medical advice is taken. The physicians told us that, to some extent, these feelings never go away. Even the most experienced described being surprised by moments of intimacy with patients.

These insights are powerful — but easily forgettable in the rush of day-to-day life, Rebecca Skloot, one of the writers at the event, counseled. Keep a notebook on hand and jot things down, she urged the students.

That's advice Marks says she plans to keep: "You never know what you can learn when treating a rash."

Previously: Using storytelling to gain insight into patient perspectives on disease, Stanford med students hone their storytelling skills under the stars and Stanford doctor argues the medical humanities are a "must-have"
Photo by Bonnie Wong

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