Healthstorian to Capture the History of Health in Southwest Virginia

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Ren Harman (left) and David Trinkle stand in front of the Healthstorian.
Ren Harman (left) and David Trinkle stand in front of the Healthstorian.

The vintage camper may not look much like a recording studio from the outside, but its goal is to record and preserve health stories of people from all backgrounds throughout Southwest Virginia.

Dubbed Healthstorian, the vehicle has been retrofitted as an audio booth and will be traveling to hospitals, clinics, festivals, and neighborhoods throughout Southwest Virginia.

“Having spent the majority of my career here in Roanoke as a geriatric psychiatrist and fan of oral histories, I have often been surprised at our lack of documenting the history of health in our valley,” said David Trinkle, associate dean for community and culture at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “The mobile StoryCorps camper will go a long way in documenting the history of health care and of the health in our community and neighborhoods.”

Healthstorian was inspired by the highly acclaimed StoryCorps, which debuted in 2003 with the opening of a StoryBooth in Grand Central Station and has since earned a regular spot on National Public Radio.

The project is a collaboration among the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Carilion Clinic, Jefferson College of Health Sciences, the City of Roanoke Libraries, and several Virginia Tech partners, including the Department of English, University Libraries, and VT Stories, a program dedicated to preserving Hokie history.

“Our team is thrilled at the opportunity to partner with Dr. Trinkle and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine to share our knowledge and experience in preserving oral histories,” said Ren Harman, project manager for VT Stories and a doctoral candidate in the School of Education, where he earned a master’s degree in 2014. “The Healthstorian provides a unique opportunity to collect stories in a mobile oral history studio about health and health care in the New River Valley, and to share those stories in a similar manner to VT Stories.”

David Trinkle interviews Cynda Johnson
For the first official Healthstorian interview, David Trinkle, associate dean for community and culture at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, chose Cynda Johnson, founding dean of the medical school.

Interviews will be conducted with health care providers, administrators, faculty members, students, patients, former patients, and their families, all to gain an oral history of the region’s health and health care. All recordings will be housed in University Library archives.

Healthstorian made its debut at Go Fest, an outdoor festival in Roanoke, on October 13, with Trinkle first interviewing Cynda Johnson, founding dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, then N.L. Bishop, president of Jefferson College of Health Sciences.

“This collaboration between VT Stories and the Healthstorian is a great example of faculty, staff, students, and community members working beyond boundaries,” said Katrina Powell, an English professor who coordinates VT Stories and directs the Center for Rhetoric in Society in the Department of English. “We are so excited to work with Dr. Trinkle’s team to understand the ways that health narratives through oral history can affect our understanding of health practices and health literacy.”

Written by Catherine Doss

Cynda Johnson and N.L. Bishop
Cynda Johnson, founding dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and N.L. Bishop, president of Jefferson College of Health Sciences, pause between Healthstorian interviews.