How do Doctors Use Language to Shape, Challenge and Form Relationships?

13 June 2017

This month we published Reflective Writing in Medical Practice by Miriam A. Locher. In this post the author explains the focus of the book and how it came about.

This book is about the linguistic analysis of written reflective writing texts that were produced in the context of medical education and medical practice. The texts were collected from medical students from the University of Basel and the University of Nottingham (in connection with courses on communication skills in doctor-patient interaction), and are supplemented by a corpus of texts written by doctors for columns published in medical journals.

The genre of reflective writing has several purposes: it invites the writer to learn from a past experience and to reflect on potential future behaviour. In its focus on a past experience it involves narrative elements and in its trajectory on learning it involves reflection and projection. As a practice, the value of reflective writing has long been established within the medical humanities and medical professionals are encouraged to make reflective writing a life-long habit.

My own expertise in online health communication and (im)politeness studies led me to ask how medical students and doctors use language to shape, challenge and form relationships (a process for which I use the term ‘relational work’), and thus to study the texts in the reflective writing corpus from an interpersonal pragmatics perspective. In addition, the texts are explored with respect to topic, composition, and genre. In the book, we explore:

  • what topics and communication skills the authors write about
  • how the narratives develop
  • how these texts are shaped
  • what genres influence their composition
  • how relational work surfaces in them
  • how the writers linguistically create their identities as experts or novices

The medical humanities have long played an important role in medical training at the University of Basel. When I joined the staff of the English department in 2008, two important scholars on the medical humanities committee, Prof. Alexander Kiss (psychosomatics) and Prof. Franziska Gygax (English literary and cultural studies) approached me and we developed a joint interdisciplinary project entitled ‘Life (Beyond) Writing’: Illness Narratives, (funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation). This project joins the study of life writing, reflective writing and medical education. During the years that the project was funded, we have learnt from each others’ different ways of developing questions and approaching data. We also organized an interdisciplinary conference, which resulted in an edited collection (Narrative Matters across Disciplines in Medical Practice, Benjamins, 2015).

The current book is the result of the linguistic branch of the project, which deals with the reflective writing corpus as outlined above. Our collaborator Victoria Tischler (Nottingham) and the linguistics project member Regula Koenig were important team members throughout the genesis of the book. While bringing the ideas together as a whole and writing it up was a single-author experience, I feel indebted to both and therefore use the authorial “we” when writing. Without their help in obtaining data, coding and feedback, the completion of this project would not have been possible.

More information on the author can be found on her website.

More information on the interdisciplinary project can be found on the project website.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Medical Discourse in Professional, Academic and Popular Settings edited by Pilar Ordóñez-López and Nuria Edo-Marzá and English in Medical Education by Peih-ying Lu and John Corbett.

 


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