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  • Writer's pictureBruce Campbell MD

Everyone Has a Story to Tell: The Universal Appeal of MCW’s MedMoth

Everyone has a story to tell: The universal appeal of MCW’s MedMoth

Dr. Campbell retired from MCW recently but still keeps active with mentoring storytelling events and narrative medicine. In this essay that was published in the August 11, 2023 issue of the Transformational Times newsletter, he tells why MCW’s MedMoth has been important to the community. Everyone has a story to tell ...

Life in medicine—from medical school to retirement—is an endless string of tasks, both difficult and mundane. Each task requires some level of attention, an intentional response, and timely documentation. We are not alone; our colleagues in pharmacy, nursing, genetic counseling, social work, chaplaincy, and other patient-facing proffessions face their own interminable streams of duties. Once the paperwork for each encounter is pushed into someone else’s inbox, we are on to our next assignment. And the next. And the next. We rarely glance up to see the horizon.

When we do take a moment, though, we can be amazed by what surrounds us. MedMoth offers that opportunity.

MCW’s MedMoth over the years

MCW medical student Scott Lamm (MD 2022), who has a passion for theater, organized a team of students and staff that launched the first MedMoth in 2019. The team’s work included recruitment, workshops, marketing, and even creation of a logo. Cassie Ferguson, MD was the faculty advisor and Kern Institute Program Director Cassidy Berns provided vision and logistical support.

Three workshops helped potential storytellers craft and rehearse their performances. On October 10, 2019, seventy-five attendees celebrated the twelve student, resident, and faculty storytellers as they shared spoken word performances that shared both medical and non-medical moments in their lives. The event created an inclusive and judgement-free experience that fostered new connections.

Each MedMoth since then has included storytelling workshops (some run by Milwaukee’s storytelling organization, Ex Fabula) and has featured five- to seven-minute storytelling performances by students, faculty, and staff. Stories have ranged from cross country trips to relationship disasters to mountain treks to experiences as an EMT to moments of great insight. Some have been humorous and others tragic. All have been well-received and extraordinary.

Storytelling is one of life’s great equalizers. Stories told by the M1 are equally valid and important as those told by the gray-haired professor. Everyone is heard and celebrated.

The Kern Institute has provided financial and logistical support since MedMoth’s inception. Recently, MedMoth has also received funding from the Charles E. Kubly Foundation.

Stories vs. anecdotes

How do stories differ from anecdotes? As Sarah Austin Jenness, executive producer of The Moth, explains, “an anecdote is a funny - this thing happened. It's a moment. A story has an arc. A story has stakes. A story has a beginning, middle and an end.”

MedMoth enables participants to identify life events that they want to share and helps them discern the elements of their story arc. The workshops build skills. At its most basic level, the participants learn that an anecdote might share the details of a difficult patient encounter. A story, however, explores how that difficult patient encounter changed a student’s view of what they want to do for the rest of their life.

So, why might storytelling be important in medicine?

As we numbly move through our to-do lists each day, we might fail to see how our interactions are changing us or the people with whom we interact. Pausing to truly attend to someone else’s story might help. More importantly, building skills as storytellers might allow each of us to be more aware of the stories that inhabit our work every day.

Others need and want to hear the stories of medicine, as well. People outside of healthcare think what we do is amazing. Maybe they are fascinated by our intimacy with suffering and death. Maybe it’s our proximity to bodily fluids. Whatever. People are curious to peek behind the curtain that shields our days from public view.

MedMoth is a safe place in our community to hear stories and gain insights. With a little practice and support, each of us can build skills and share our own stories. We are part of the journey.

The next on-campus MedMoth event is scheduled for November 30, 2023 6:30 PM in the MCW Alumni Center.

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