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Writing Diabetes: An Interdisciplinary Collaboration Explaining the Significance of Illness Essays for Patients, Clinicians, and Researchers was recently awarded a Fostering Interdisciplinary Research Explorations (FIRE) Grant through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. The FIRE Grant is a competitive funding opportunity available to new cross-disciplinary research collaborations at UNC. Writing Diabetes was proposed by Susan Coppola (Occupational Therapy), Jordynn Jack (English and Comparative Literature), Michele Rivkin-Fish (Anthropology), Jane Thrailkill (English and Comparative Literature), and Laura Anne Young (Medicine).

In the 21st century, health researchers have recognized the importance of cultural and psychological factors that influence patients’ experiences and medical outcomes. In this vein, the Writing Diabetes project will investigate the health effects of story writing for patients with chronic illness. Through the generous support of the FIRE Grant, the researchers (along with graduate student RAs) will conduct writing workshops for women with type 2 diabetes. In these workshops, participants will learn narrative writing techniques and compose illness essays centered on the experience of living with a long-term health condition. Then, the research team will use narrative analysis as well as biomedical and social scientific assessment to study the stories. The analysis will explore qualitative and statistical correlations between narrative practices and health outcomes.

The Writing Diabetes project is anticipated to make several important contributions to medical humanities scholarship. First, through the workshops, a unique archive of diabetes illness narratives will be created. Second, the analysis will document the literary and rhetorical features that correspond with illness management. Third, by comparing literary/rhetorical and biomedical insights, the project will clarify how life narratives and health are related. Lastly, by enacting a truly interdisciplinary approach, the project will model medical humanities research practices.



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