Story Medicine Changes Students, Professors and Patients
Innovative COAS course transforms the hospital for kids
Fifteen Drexel students stood in front of cameras, eager to entertain, in a studio at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. And this was their class.
Drexel's College of Arts and Sciences offers an entire suite of courses under the rubric of community-based learning. In CBL courses, students don’t just study the issues affecting the world — they go out and study the world alongside the people who are affected.
In Story Medicine, students produce and perform a half-hour of original, live-broadcast programming for hospitalized children twice weekly, with only 30 minutes to prepare each show.
The topic for this particular day was “helping.” On camera, a Drexel student asked youngsters viewing in the hospital studio, the lobby and even from their beds: “Have any of you ever helped anybody?”
One little girl looked up from her coloring book in the studio and — when placed in front of the camera — said, “I’m helping my brother right now. He needed a bone marrow transplant, so I gave him one.”
The students, along with course instructor Nomi Eve, MFA, listened in awe. “I’ll never forget that beautiful moment and the learning experience it provided for our students,” says Eve, a novelist and assistant teaching professor in the Department of English and Philosophy.
Story Medicine, while touching on subjects ranging from acting and production to digital media, is essentially a writing course with two components: the in-class portion, where students work the teleprompter, perform on camera and help young patients in the studio with arts and crafts; and outside of class, where students collaborate on scripts, workshop their ideas, and reflect on the core principles of the course.
They learn to work collaboratively and improvise. They learn to deliver a product — their script and performance — to a real client on a demanding schedule.
And often, they learn to go outside of their comfort zones.
“Every student has an interaction that changes them — an interaction with a child that forces them to confront difficult circumstances,” says Eve.
That has been especially true for Victoria Milano, a sophomore psychology major who plans to go to medical school. She says her experience in the course has been “nothing short of profound.”
This course has allowed me a glimpse into my future, solidifying my desires to be a physician.
“To be an undergrad and have the ability to brighten not only a child’s experience at CHOP, but also their family's, was eye-opening,” Milano says. “Walking out of the hospital, I had a refreshing sense of confidence in my choice of major. This course has allowed me a glimpse into my future, solidifying my desires to be a physician. What happens at CHOP really is magical.”
In 2017, Story Medicine took the student-patient engagement one step further. CHOP identified three patients with long-term hospitalizations to work directly with veteran Story Medicine students to develop their own stories.
With the help of Nick Jushchyshyn, program director for Animation, Visual Effects and Immersive Media in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, the children's scripts were brought to life in animations that were broadcast throughout the hospital.
“These patients have amazing ideas, and my Drexel students end up being such sophisticated storytellers,” Eve says. “I’ve been able to watch my students step into a different role than they’re used to, and do it with real intelligence and grace to create amazing stories.”
* Notes: Photographs for this story were taken by Jeffrey Stockbridge, '05. This story is adapted from an article that originally appeared in ASK 2017, the magazine of Drexel's College of Arts and Sciences.