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LKSOM ‘Story Slam’ Captivates Large Crowd

POSTED ON October 09, 2017


Jessica Fleischer, a first-year medical student, placed second for her story, “A Shameful Monument.” 

The steaming trays of Colombian food and the seats in the Luo Auditorium disappeared equally fast at the latest “Temple Story Slam,” held on October 3 at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM).

The crowd, which appeared to be double in size to last spring’s first-ever Story Slam, came to be inspired, moved, and entertained. 

"The Story Slam is part of a broader effort by the Narrative Medicine Program to promote a culture of stories and to give students and staff a chance to reflect on the incredible things they see and do,” said Michael Vitez, Director of Narrative Medicine at LKSOM. “Stories do so many things – heal, inspire, and build community – all of which were on display tonight.” 

The large crowd, which often sat stone silent as it hung on every word, didn’t seem to faze the 12 brave storytellers. Five medical students, five faculty members, one resident, and one case manager told stories that ranged from humorous anecdotes to hard-learned lessons in humility. 

Master of Ceremonies Mohammed “Zeeshan” Nayeemuddin, MD, a former Temple resident who often participates in story slams, told a tale of his own about a patient who so feared for his undocumented family members that he waited too long to seek treatment for his cancer. 

Among the most haunting stories was “A Few Cups of Coffee,” told by first-year medical student Katya Ahr. Speaking in a cadence that was part prose and part poetry, she recalled her days volunteering in a burn unit and the friendship she developed with a man who survived his injuries but whose quality of life had been sacrificed greatly as a result. “We can talk about a lot of things these days, but what we don’t talk about is the difference between could and should,” said Ahr. 

Even the stories that seemed on the surface to be tailored for an audience of medical professionals spoke to the humanity of every person medicine touches. First-year medical student Jessica Fleischer’s story, “A Shameful Monument,” was both a love letter and apology to her anatomy class cadaver, who still had her chemotherapy port. 

“Its plastic hollow tube protruding from your chest like a flag signifying cancer’s conquest. A shameful monument memorializing how medicine has failed you. I wish for you they had removed that port. I wish for you they had let you burn it or throw it out of a window. I think of the courage you mustered to battle pancreatic cancer and the gut-wrenching disappointment you felt when told you would not survive.” 

First-year medical student Christopher Rakay describes the disconnect between “television CPR” and the real thing. 

Other stories reflected an appreciation for the shared support systems built into medicine. First-year medical student Christopher Rakay told a story about the “lie” that is television CPR, and second-year medical student Ian Latham reflected on the way his family healed together while his grandmother was dying. Although they good-naturedly forbade the audience from voting for them, faculty members Lawrence Kaplan, MD, FACP, and Stephen Aronoff, MD, MBA, both told stories about their early days in medicine and the trenchant lessons they learned from their patients. 

“So many wonderful stories, so many people willing to stand in front of their peers to share stories that exposed errors in judgment, or a lack of humility, or anger or frustrations, or inexperience or lessons learned,” said Vitez, who commented that the best part of the evening came later when he received this email from participant Katya Ahr:   

“he story slam and narrative medicine program were initiatives that impressed me so much before I came to Temple that they contributed to my decision to come here,” she wrote. “Knowing that people in medicine are having these conversations and sharing these experiences speaks to the culture of the school.”

Editor’s note: First-year medical student Katya Ahr won first prize for her story, “A Few Cups of Coffee.” She won a $150 gift certificate to the restaurant Wm Mulherin’s Sons. Jessica Fleischer, another first-year student, placed second for “A Shameful Monument.”