Steering Committee

AprilBrennemanApril Brenneman discovered the importance and power of narrative medicine through the traumatic experience of cancer in her youngest child. Writing became a natural outlet to try to process and understand her son’s cancer journey. In 2013 she painted on her son’s X-rays creating an art collection titled: Mother & Son. Her first piece, Lament 1: A Passionate Expression of Grief or Sorrow, was published in The Intima in 2014. To further her knowledge, she attended the Columbia UniversityNarrative Medicine Workshop in New York. She believes in the power of story and the ability to re-frame one’s illness narrative through writing and/or art. She has facilitated writing workshops for Write Around Portland since 2015. She coordinates and co-hosts the NWNM Collaborative Monthly Series. Passionate about her spiritual practice, she co-facilitates Contemplative Prayer and Journaling Retreats and bi-annual Companioning Conferences with Boldly Loved LLC. Since 2014 she has hosted guests from all over the world in her home through Airbnb. Hosting and holding space for others brings her great joy.


Martha Driessnack, Ph.D., PNP-BC, is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a background in art therapy and genetics. She says both are important in gaining insight into the intergenerational nature of stories and storytelling! Her program of research focuses on the engagement of children in health-related research using novel, child-sensitive approaches to data collection. One such approach is the Draw-and-Tell Conversation (DTC), which she developed and continues to use with children as she explores their experiences and family stories. Of particular interest is her work with children related to understanding what “runs” in their family and how children learn about genetic/health risks. She is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing at OHSU and actively involved in the OHSU Interprofessional Initiative, serving on the IPI Steering Committee and OHSU-wide Curriculum Committee. Most importantly, she teaches an interprofessional elective entitled Narrative Competence  at OHSU with Elizabeth Lahti.

1721177Daena Goldsmith, Ph.D., is a professor of Rhetoric & Media Studies at Lewis & Clark College, where she researches and teaches about how we enact identities and relationships through what we say and how we say it. Her work focuses on interactions from everyday life, including the conversations we have with a spouse or partner, the advice we give to friends and family, and the stories we tell face-to-face and online. Her courses address the intersections of interpersonal interaction, media, and rhetoric. Daena began as an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark College and in 2006, she came back to join the faculty. In between, she earned my MA and PhD at the University of Washington and held faculty appointments at University of Maryland and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

RebeccaHphoto2Rebecca Harrison, M.D., believes in the power of story to express experiences in healthcare and also to heal. She is inspired by the blending of art and science to tell our stories and believes in many paths to health and healing. She is a clinician educator, hospitalist, clerkship director and section chief in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. In these roles, she has a unique opportunity to create culture change and promote more compassionate medical care for diverse patients, providers and learners. Dr. Harrison has facilitated narrative medicine, reflection rounds and resiliency training skills within the OHSU School of Medicine. She has published a variety of articles on medical education, hospital medicine and part-time careers and has presented at local, national and international venues on a variety of medical education and faculty wellness topics. Planning the first Northwest Narrative Medicine Conference was inspiring and fulfilling, and she looks forward to learning more about the many ways to improve healthcare delivery and influence the healthcare environment at this inaugural event.

dsc00137Elizabeth Lahti, M.D., is a Portland-area clinical and teaching hospitalist. She is the Director of Narrative Medicine in the YourMD curriculum transformation at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine; and, she designed and co-facilitates the first upper level interprofessional course, Narrative Competence for Health Professionals, through the Interprofessional Education (IPE) Initiative at OHSU. She teaches narrative medicine and reflective practice to trainees and faculty with a particular interest in identity formation and resilience through story. She was awarded the 2017 Exceptional Mentorship Award by the American Medical Women’s Association and believes that micro-generational storytelling between students, residents and practicing physicians contributes to professional fulfillment. Dr. Lahti is a member of the Full Frontal Writing Collective, a group of writers who meet weekly to practice and support each other in writing endeavors. Her writing has been published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and the Elohi Gaduji Journal.

loisleveenLois Leveen, Ph.D is a Kienle Scholar in Medical Humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. A novelist (Juliet’s Nurse and The Secrets of Mary Bowser), poet, and educator, Dr. Leveen holds degrees from Harvard University, the University of Southern California, and UCLA. She is a frequent speaker and workshop leader at conferences, museums, libraries, high schools, colleges and universities across North America. Her work in the medical humanities focuses on how content and approaches from literary studies, history, and the visual arts, and related fields can foster greater reflection for individuals and deepen bonds of community among healthcare practitioners, students, patients, and families. She has been published in/on The New York Times, the Atlantic, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angelas Review of Books, the Huffington Post, NPR, and C-SPAN. For more information, see


Katy Liljeholm is a theatre director and writing teacher who transplanted to Portland from Ohio. She’s worked as a director, stage manager and puppeteer at local theatres, including Tears of Joy, Teatro de Milagro, Profile Theatre, Portland Actors’ Ensemble, New Century Players, Beaverton Civic Theatre and others. She was Artistic Director of Well Arts from 2010-2014, and taught playwriting workshops at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Washington County, the Northwest Down Syndrome Association, Hollywood Senior Center, REACH CDC, Friendly House, Homewoods and other locations, presenting her work at conferences including the Society for Arts in Healthcare, Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and OHSU’s Health Aging Alliance. She currently provides oral history services for palliative care patients through Legacy Health Services, teaches family history and memoir writing classes at local community centers and is pursuing her Masters in Arts in Health at University of Florida. You can find her online at

EllenEllen Michaelson, M.D., M.F.A., is a Portland physician and writer. She is the founder of HealthMax Primary Care, a Narrative Medicine practice in NW Portland. She was an NEH Fellow in Medical Humanities and has an MFA in Writing. It has been a long-standing interest of Ellen to see narrative medicine come to life in Portland. On faculty in the Division of General Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, she is joined each year by medical students who shadow her and take part in patient care. She has run writing workshops for medical students and for patients with chronic illnesses, and looks forward to involving the larger community in our shared stories.

unnamed-1Cara Olexa, M.F.A., studied fiction at New Mexico State University before finding herself at the intersection of healthcare and storytelling, first at Oregon Health & Science University and now at the Oregon Nurses Association, where she is excited to help nurses tell their stories. She has facilitated workshops for the Northwest Narrative Medicine Collaborative and Write Around Portland, a nonprofit that provides free creative writing workshops for people experiencing barriers to writing in community. She’s had the honor of sharing a workshop table with writers at OHSU, Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, Transition Projects, and New Avenues for Youth. She is currently working on a book of narrative poetry.

StecklerNiki Steckler, Ph.D., teaches and coaches academic leaders and healthcare professionals on how to increase their leadership capabilities in order to make a meaningful difference in health and healthcare. Her methods for teaching emotional intelligence and influence center around awareness of the stories we are telling ourselves (and others) and how greater awareness and choice about our narratives can help us reframe and broaden our understanding of what is happening around us and what it means. Dr. Steckler has won awards for her teaching excellence; she currently teaches graduate courses and professional development workshops on becoming an effective manager, influence and communication skills for leaders and increasing human sustainability in healthcare contexts. She is currently an Associate Professor of Management in the School of Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. She holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Harvard University.

dvw_MaxDeborah Woodcock, M.B.A., is an informatician and program manager at the Oregon Health & Science University Informatics Discovery Lab. Formerly a science writer and journalist, Ms. Woodcock studies how information technology and sociotechnical factors influence communication among patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. She and her canine companion have served as an animal-assisted therapy team, and she currently serves as a Scientific Research Advocate at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Communications Coordinator

juliaburnsJulia Burns graduated from Lewis & Clark College in 2016 with a degree in English and Rhetoric & Media Studies. She first became interested in narrative medicine while writing her senior thesis, which uses a women’s sexual pain disorder to illustrate the shortcomings of biomedicine when dealing with chronic pain. Her work argues for an interdisciplinary approach to medicine. Through reflective writing and academic scholarship, Julia has found great success in the healing process for her own invisible illness. She currently works at Edelman Communications in the Tech sector.