In 2012, during the first round of the W&M-Eastern Virginia Medical School collaborative grants, Joanne Braxton, Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings Professor of the Humanities and Director of the Middle Passage Project, had a bold idea. Braxton, a published poet and writer who had been teaching both literature as well as non-fiction life writing at William & Mary for many years, approached Dean Don Combs at Eastern Virginia Medical School about the new field known as Narrative Medicine. Dean Combs immediately convened a meeting of several administrators at EVMS, including Mekbib Gemeda, Vice President for Diversity. That meeting, held on site at EVMS, lasted three hours. But it was not until Round 3 of the Collaborative Grants program was announced in 2014, that Braxton and Gemeda pulled together a proposal that would succeed in establishing an intentionally interdisciplinary, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic "learning community" of scholars, artists and medical practitioner faculty from William & Mary and EVMS.
Awarded a 25k grant in round three of the W&M-EVMS Collaborative Grants, Braxton and Gemeda became co-Principal Investigators on a multi-faceted team project that brought together faculty and students from across the disciplines to increase creativity and the reflective capacity of students who will be entering the medical profession for the improved ability to "read," listen to, and respond to others as well as become reflective practitioners. Team members include Mekbib Gemeda, Terri Babineau, M.D., and Natasha Sriraman, M.D. from EVMS and from William & Mary, Braxton (English/Africana Studies/Asian-American Studies), pre-med advisor Beverly Sher (Biology), Shanta' Hinton (Biology), Artisia Green (Theatre/Africana Studies) and Francis Tanglao-Aguas (Theatre/Africana Studies/Asian American Studies.) The work of the team formally began in January 2015 and concluded on June 30, 2015, however the work goes on in the form of two courses added to the university's new COLL 200 curriculum. These are English 200-01, "Discovering Narrative Medicine, Stories That Heal," and AFST 306/AMST 350-13 "Medicine, Arts and Social Justice," being rolled out by William & Mary as part of the continuing new curriculum in fall 2015. This course is being taught cooperatively by W&M and EVMS faculty with exciting guest lecturers from first-ranked research institutions like Emory University and the University of Maryland. But W&M does not reap the benefits alone. In June 2015 Braxton, Sriraman and Babineau co-taught two accredited CME (Continuing Medical Education) seminars for EVMS medical students and healthcare professionals. Extensive data was collected in preparation for future grant applications.
Rita Charon, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and Executive Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, the author of Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness, is widely regarded as the founder of Narrative Medicine. Charon, who has worked closely with Braxton on this project, lauds the W&M-EVMS effort, "What you are doing for your students at William & Mary and Eastern Virginia Medical School is awesome. I am impressed and proud that the work of Narrative Medicine has spawned this great work."