Upcoming Department of Pediatrics Story Slam will feature stories on the theme ‘Roses, Thorns, and Buds’

Pediatric Grand Rounds will offer attendees an educational and entertaining experience later this month with the presentation of a Department of Pediatrics Story Slam. The event will feature five storytellers offering spoken word presentations on the theme “Roses, Thorns, and Buds.” Jessica Babal, MD, associate professor and interim chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, will host the Story Slam. Babal serves as the director of the Listen In! Storytelling Collaborative, which develops storytelling programming and research. She introduced narrative storytelling to the department last year.

Story Slam: Roses, Thorns, and Buds will be held October 19, 7:30–8:30 a.m. Attendees can join in person in HSLC 1335 or virtually via Zoom.

Dr. Jessica Babal
Jessica Babal, MD

Babal’s interest in combining narrative storytelling and medicine began early in her career. After completing her pediatric residency, she took a position as a general pediatrician in a large academic teaching hospital pediatric emergency department. She loved her colleagues and much of the work, but she soon realized that the lack of connection with the many emergency department patients was pushing her toward burnout. She came to dread her commute to work until she discovered The Moth podcast, in which people tell stories about how mundane or exciting moments of their lives had enormous effects. “I began to listen to these stories during my commute to work,” Babal explained, “and was progressively reminded how we are all connected to each other through the joys and sorrows of life.” The feelings of connection she experienced listening to The Moth would spill over into her workday and help maintain her emotional reserves.

Babal saw that medical training and practice seemed to squeeze the stories of patients — and often those of their doctors — to the barest minimum. It seemed there was an assumption that “if we can distill stories to ‘just the biological facts’ we will get everything we need to do accomplished,” Babal said. When that happens, it can become harder to recognize that people’s stories may matter just as much, if not more, than their biology. Stories remind us that “physicians are people, not machines,” Babal explained. “And patients are people — they are not vessels holding disease processes.”

The power and value of storytelling in medicine has been widely recognized and is being pursued. There has been longstanding ongoing work at the VA to engage patients in sharing their stories. Further, the work to benefit from storytelling’s power is being incorporated widely across health care institutions, including this Department of Pediatrics. Babal created the department’s Story Slam in October 2022. The inaugural session’s theme was “Second Chances,” and took place at a westside bookstore. It was a rousing success.

The October 2023 Story Slam as Grand Rounds will include stories by Adnan Ahmad, DO, resident in the department; Vivek Balasubramaniam, MD, associate professor, Division of Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine; Reverend Chelsea Cornelius, M.Div., pediatric staff chaplain at the American Family Children’s Hospital; Danielle Gerber, patient advocate and honorary fellow, Division of Hospital Medicine; and Cathy Lee-Miller, MD, assistant professor, Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Bone Marrow Transplant.

Babal noted that many others in the department are doing scholarly work or integrating storytelling and narrative work into their practices. She offered special thanks to the department’s professional development and well-being teams for their shared support of this initiative, as well as grateful thanks to Mala Mathur, MD, MPH, associate professor, Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and director of professional development; Sarah Webber, MD, associate professor, Division of Hospital Medicine, and director of well-being; and Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, professor and interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics, for their support of this work.