Medical Humanities

by Dr Davis on August 26, 2009

While searching for humanities syllabi to beef up my understanding of what a humanities instructor teaches, I also found several interesting syllabi for medical humanities. These struck me as particularly relevant for the health sciences course, so I am posting them here.

hs-surgeryFirst, I found an interesting syllabus for Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities. I think that this would probably not be relevant for a course I would teach at the community college level in humanities, but it would be relevant for my health science professionals freshman English class.

Areas for which a project can be shaped include:
Empathy
Empathy and consciousness
Physician-patient relationship
Cross cultural medical issues and needs
History of medicine
Literature and medicine
Art/photography and medicine
Medical training and medical school curriculum
Reflection and reflective practice

Literature and Humanities is an excellent syllabus with literary works related to medicine.

Session 1: January 22 (snow date January 29): Betrayed by the Body
Robert Murphy, The Body Silent (memoir)
Chris Adrian, “A Child’s Book of Sickness and Death” (story)
Lucia Perillo, “Poem without Breasts,” “Second Poem without Breasts”

Session 2: February 26 (snow date March 5): The Wounded Healer
Abraham Verghese, The Tennis Partner (memoir)
William Carlos Williams, “Old Doc Rivers” (story)
Veneta Masson, “Guilt” (poem)

Session 3: March 26 (snow date April 2): Endings
Simone de Beauvoir, A Very Easy Death (memoir)
David Rieff, Swimming in a Sea of Death (memoir)
Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” (poem)

Session 4: April 30: Battling Despair
William Styron, Darkness Visible (memoir)
Jane Kenyon, “Having It Out with Melancholy” (poem)
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sonnet 65

Session 5: May 28: Agents of Death/Angels of Mercy: Social Stigma and the
Individual Conscience
Atul Gawande, “The Doctors of the Death Chamber” (article)
Jim Shepard, “Sans Farine” (story)

Session 6: June 25: Compassion and Connections in the Hospital
Thomas Moran, The World I Made for Her (novel)
Chris Adrian, “The Sum of Our Parts” (story)

This is a discussion of another medical humanities class. Again, I think this would be very useful for the health sciences English class.

Week 1 topics:
How does the transition from student to professional (professionalization) occur: objectification of the body, responsibility vs. inexperience, instruction in “professionalism” vs. the hidden curriculum

Session 1. Introductory session uses poetry and art to introduce topics of cultural ambiguity (“Day of the Refugios” by Alberto Rios, “Original Sin” by Sandra Cisneros), borders between physician and patient (“Talking to the Family” by John Stone, “Open You Up” by Richard Berlin) distancing of the sick from their own health (“Across the Border” by Karen Fiser), isolation (Edvard Munch’s paintings Death in the Sickroom, The Dead Mother).

Arbitrariness of borders, the Other: one-page excerpt from Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Session 2. Objectification of the body as students become acculturated while learning gross anatomy through dissection. Anatomy of Anatomy in Images and Words by photojournalist Meryl Levin traces this process with photographs and student journal entries. Secret knowledge not previously available to the lay public. But now this knowledge is public: Gunther von Hagens’s Body Worlds exhibit.

Student response to gross anatomy course: poem, “Apparition” by Gregg Chesney. Intern trains herself to be detached: poem, “Internship in Seattle” by Emily R. Transue.

Historical perspectives on objectifying and learning from the body:

the dead body — Rembrandt’s painting, The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp)

the living body-Eakins’s paintings, The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic

development of technology (“Technology and Disease: The Stethoscope and Physical Diagnosis” by Jacalyn Duffin)

Compare representations (paintings) of physician-patient interaction: The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes and Picasso’s Science and Charity.

Patient’s perspective of objectification and loss of personhood: poem, “The Coliseum” by Jim Ferris

“Professionalism”: Jack Coulehan critiques current curricula in medical professionalism and discusses the hidden curriculum. “You Say Self Interest, I Say Altruism.”

Difficult transition and ambiguous boundaries when medical student officially becomes an MD. Playing the role, assuming the role. Short story by Mikhail Bulgakov, “The Steel Windpipe”and Perri Klass’s introduction to Baby Doctor and essay from Baby Doctor, “Flip-flops.” Klass’s essays include reflections on the interaction of personal and professional life and lead into Session 3.

Session 3. Physician perspectives on the overlap and conflict of personal and professional life; subjectivity, objectivity

Poem, “Falling Through” by Michael Jacobs.
Essay, “Language Barrier”. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie.
Essay, “Heart Rhythms”. Sandeep Jauhar.
Story, “Laundry”. Susan Onthank Mates.
Poem, “Monday”. Marc J. Straus.
Poem sequence, “The Distant Moon, I, II,III, IV”. Rafael Campo.
Essay, “Fat Lady”. Irvin D.Yalom

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