In November many people took part in NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — an international challenge in spite of its name. A sizable percentage of the participants will have completed their target 50,000 words and some will go on to produce published works. But success isn’t just about hitting the target — or it shouldn’t be. Successfully encouraging people to write about topics that interest them, and to interact with other worldwide who are taking part in the same challenge, is an achievement in itself. Novels have been looked down on throughout history to a greater or lesser extent with other forms of writing being deemed more worthy at different times, and even now some claim not to read fiction, while others will only read certain types of fiction and disparage those who read outside those boundaries.
I’ll happily try reading almost anything, and believe that reading — including genre fiction or non-traditional forms of literature/storytelling — can educate us about the world around us and about ourselves. Romance can encourage readers to think about their attitudes to relationships and gender roles; science fiction can make people think about their interaction with progress and real-life scientific developments; crime novels can make people consider the interactions of justice and morality. But a novel doesn’t just have to consist of words on a page; other forms of storytelling have coexisted as long as people have communicated with each other.
I’m a fan of graphic novels, particularly those that attempt to convey in their text and illustrations concepts and emotions that might be different to realise in a short novel or even an academic work. Texts such as Charley’s War, Maus and Persepolis give readers an insight into the lives of ordinary people during times of chaos and social upheaval. Now, an increasing number of academics are coming to the same conclusion. Graphic Medicine is a website examining medical narratives in graphic novels and how these can be used to educate doctors and other healthcare professionals. Graphic novels tend to be a quicker read than forms of literature based purely on words and traditionally show thoughts and body language as well as speech in an easily identifiable manner. This can help doctors and their colleagues understand more about how patients interact with disease and diagnoses and so — hopefully — lead to better medical practice.
The method might not work for everyone, but I’m very much in favour of widening the scope of medical education to include a variety of visual and audio-based media to demonstrate best practice and common pitfalls to students and professionals at all stages of their careers.