PMHA Updates

Medical Humanities & Arts Program

Cover art of the 2021 Plexus, an online publication that showcases creative work by the UCI medical community.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UCI-SoM Medical Humanities/Arts program has been involved in efforts to acknowledge the loss, grief, frustration, and burnout we have all experienced, as well as trying to help physician faculty and medical students chart a path forward. Some of our relevant activities are as follows:

HeArt Space: At Dr. Haq’s suggestion, and under Drs. Nguyen and Shapiro’s leadership, in collaboration with Dr. Mike Liu, Chair for the OC Medical Association’s Wellness program, we pioneered the HeART Space project to provide a healing space through art, poetry and music for stressed-out, emotionally exhausted physicians.

Plexus: Plexus, the UCI-SoM journal of arts and literature, publishes original creative work by students, faculty and staff. This year’s co-editors, Ashley Hope MS3 and Kenneth Schmitt MS3, chose the theme Illuminate, which relates to resilience and being a source of light in the face of the pandemic.

Research: The qualitative arm of the Department’s FM COVID-19 research project, again inspired by Dr. Haq and guided by Dr. Nguyen, Dr. Avital Fischer (a former UCI medical student now a first year psychiatry resident at Stanford), Dr. Billimek, and Dr. Shapiro, was an opportunity for family docs all over California to tell their stories about what inspired them to continue patient care during the pandemic.

Poetry Symposium: Dr. Frank Meyskens, Dr. Thelma Reyna, and Dr. Shapiro organized the Fifth Annual Symposium on the Poetry of Hope and Healing in February with the theme of Loss, Grief, and Resilience in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Student Activities: In collaboration with the UCI Drama Department and Palliative Medicine, Ashley Hope MS3 organized a zoom performance of Wit, a play that focuses on what patients need most at end of life. The upcoming Medical Student Arts Exhibit, coordinated by second year student Jana Sanhu, also has a pandemic-related theme, Resilience.

Graduation with Distinction in Medical Humanities: A committee (Drs. Nguyen, Vasa, Shallit, Shapiro, Kelly from anesthesiology, and McMullin our new endowed chair in medical humanities) is working to identify outstanding 4th year students who qualify for graduation with distinction in humanities/arts.

The Plague Revisited: A presentation by Dr. Shapiro on Camus’ The Plague Plague to the Department of Arts & Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Maine considering parallels between this novel’s depiction of the twin viruses of plague and fascism and current events in the U.S..

A Welcome and A Parting Word from Dr. Shapiro

We would like to take this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to Dr. Juliet McMullin, who arrives in April to fill the position of Endowed Chair in Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine. Dr. McMullin trained as a cultural and medical anthropologist and has special expertise in narrative, story-telling and graphic medicine.

She is a distinguished scholar and researcher as well as an award-winning teacher. Coming to us from UC Riverside, where she has served as chair of her department, interim dean for the School of Humanities and Arts, and co-director of the Center for Health Disparities Research, Dr. McMullin brings both prestige and passion to the Program. We know she will do exciting things at UCI-SoM and will lead medical humanities to new heights.

Since this is the last newsletter to which I will be contributing, I’d to reiterate my deep gratitude to the leadership of the Department, past, present, and (hopefully) future for their active support and commitment to medical humanities; and to my colleagues over the years who have provided a safe and caring home base for me in family medicine with such kindness and care.

I will miss you all greatly, but I will always feel a part of family medicine at UCI. You have been and will continue to be part of my family.

Johanna Shapiro, PhD
Director, Program in Medical Humanities & Arts
UCI Family Medicine


MH Program 2021-22

Johanna Shapiro, PhD, retired after 42 years of exceptional service and has returned on recall till the new director is in place in early 2022. We’ll share more details in the next edition.

In the meantime, we are keeping busy. Tan Nguyen, MD, is faculty lead for the National Humanities Consortium’s oral history project to obtain recollections of physicians, nurses and other frontline workers about their pandemic experiences.

Johanna Shapiro, PhD, is a part of a national Family Medicine consortium developing a medical humanities curriculum for use in residency training. She will be speaking at the AMA Medical Student Section in November on the importance of storytelling in helping medical students process personal and professional loss and grief.

Joel Shallit, MD, has resumed his popular elective: Examine the Painting/Examine the Patient. Drs. Nguyen and Shapiro continue to offer humanities-themed curricular experiences. Tan Nguyen, MD, along with Candice Taylor-Lucas, MD, with the UCI Department of Pediatrics are representing the School of Medicine as committee members for the UCI Campus Center for Medical Humanities.


July 2019 – December 2020

The Program in Medical Humanities & Arts is dedicated to integrating literature and the arts in medical education for the purposes of promoting critical reflection about and compassionate attention to patient care; and enhancing both patient and physician wellbeing.  Dr. Shapiro and Dr. Nguyen lead this effort. The Program offers humanities-informed curriculum throughout all 4 years of medical school, including an MS1 elective Patient Stories/Doctor Stories (Dr. Nguyen and Dr. Shapiro); required sessions through the Mindful Medicine thread in CF (Drs. Haq, Dr. Linda Lin [FM residency graduate], Nicole Reilly [Anesthesiology], and Eli Simon [drama]) and in the FM (Reflection session and Medical Readers Theater session), IM (Critical Reflection [Dr. Cameron Harding, lead]), and Peds (Reflection and Advocacy, Dr. Penny Murata, lead) 3rd year clerkships; and a popular MS4 elective Art of Doctoring (Dr. Sosa-Johnson and Dr. Shapiro).

In addition, the Program supports humanities student research, such as the Positivity Bracelet project (MS2s Michael LoBasso and Ian Jones) and the book Diary of a Med Student (MS4s Daniel Assam and Ajay Sharma).  An exciting faculty research project involving Drs. Nguyen, Shapiro, Miotto (community FP), Hurria (Psychiatry), and McMullin (Anthropology, UCR) is an investigation of the comparative benefits of using comics, poetry, or mask making with third year medical students. With the support of Dr. Emily Dow, the FM Residency Newsletter has been featuring a monthly Humanities Corner, showcasing creative works from residents.

Dr. Nguyen and Dr. Shapiro currently serve as the medical school representatives on the UCI Center for Medical Humanities Executive Committee, where they help guide decisions about campus lectures and faculty seed funding. They are also faculty advisors to the undergraduate pre-health professions club Healing through Humanities, and along with Dr. Elana Craemer, oversee the club’s photojournalism projects, “Humans of Santa Ana” and “Geriatric Kindness Outreach.: In addition, they are faculty advisors to the medical student journal Plexus which publishes original visual and performance art, poetry, essays, which produced its 21st issue this past summer.

The Program also sponsored several special events.  In 2019 we hosted a visiting professor from Australia, Rachel Jackson MD, who presented her work on narrative medicine with aboriginal populations.  We also co-sponsored the annual Poetry of Hope and Healing Symposium in 2020 which attracted about 80 participants. At Dr. Haq’s suggestion, when the pandemic started, Dr. Nguyen and Dr. Shapiro started HeArtSpace, an online humanities-based session to promote physician healing and wellbeing.  This morphed into a monthly session for OCMA under the guidance of Dr. Michael Liu. In December 2020, Dr. Shapiro had the honor of presenting the Distinguished Lecture for the UCI Center for Medical Humanities, “Stories of Sickness: Listening Narratively to Co-Construct New Understandings About Illness.”



This was an exciting year for the Program in Medical Humanities.  First, thanks to the leadership and initiative of Dean Emeritus Ralph Clayman, the School of Medicine expanded the Clinical Foundations I and II curricula to include 8 hours each year of a “kindness curriculum.” The purpose of the kindness curriculum is to encourage students to think deeply about what kindness really is; and how it manifests in clinical settings.

We also worked closely with Dr. Jamie Wikenheiser, Anatomy Course Director, to reinstate an optional creative projects reflection for first year anatomy students.  About a third of the class took advantage of this opportunity.  Some students chose to perform their projects at the Donor Family session to great acclaim by their peers and the family members present.

With Dr. Clayman, we organized a “Night at the Movies” for a free screening and discussion of the movie Wit, about a professor dying of ovarian cancer.

The Program continues to offer elective and required courses and course components in undergraduate medical education; research opportunities for 1st and 4th year medical students in medical humanities; sponsors Plexus, journal of the arts and literature; nominates 4th year students for graduation with distinction in humanities/arts; confers the Office of Medical Education award for outstanding graduating student in humanities/arts and the UC Medical Humanities Consortium research award(s) for outstanding work in humanities research.



This year PMHA was very fortunate to work with a new UCI campus Interschool Excellence Initiative in Medical Humanities, funded for 3 years by the UCI Office of the Provost. This initiative is a collaborative effort by faculty from the schools of the Arts, Humanities, and Medicine to build a nationally distinctive and innovative inter-school program in medical humanities.

Medical Humanities will support research projects by faculty in the three schools; harness existing curricular content and develop new course content towards a Medical Humanities minor and coursework for medical students; and promote scholarly and public conversations about health, healing and well-being.

The program is directed by Douglas M. Haynes, Ph.D (Department of History); with the support of co-directors Aaron Kheriaty, M.D. (Department of Psychiatry) and Johanna Shapiro, Ph.D (Department of Family Medicine)

In January, we presented a day-long medical humanities symposium, “The Art of Medicine.” Approximately 80 medical students, from UCI and surrounding schools, participated.

The Program continues to offer elective and required courses and course components in undergraduate medical education; research opportunities for 1st and 4th year medical students in medical humanities; sponsors Plexus, journal of the arts and literature; nominates 4th year students for graduation with distinction in humanities/arts; confers the Office of Medical Education award for outstanding graduating student in humanities/arts and the UC Medical Humanities Consortium research award(s) for outstanding work in humanities research.



Working with the Office of Medical Education, we implemented a new component of the curriculum, “Anthropologists on Mars,” using reflective practice to help incoming first year students observe and process the3 days of clinical exposure they experience at Douglas Hospital.  Students attended an orientation lecture, then wrote brief essays followed by discussion.

A UCI medical student presented a medical humanities paper at the prestigious American Society of Bioethics and Humanities.  Dr. Tan Nguyen and Dr. Shapiro also presented a medical humanities paper at that same conference. The Program received a grant from the Gold Humanism Foundation to support a conference “The Art of Medicine” which offered various presentations, panels, and workshops with the aim of demonstrating the relevance of humanities- and arts-based ways of thinking to clinical medicine.

We co-sponsored a 5 lecture series on Art and Medicine that brought faculty from School of the Arts to lecture medical students on various topics with implications for clinical practice.



Working with Dr. Prislin, we introduced a new session to orientation,  “At the Movies: Doctors and Patients,” using clips from dramas and documentaries to raise questions about doctoring, professionalism, and culture.

We recruited a volunteer faculty member, Dr. Joel Shallit, who developed an exciting new first year elective, Examine the Painting/Examine the Patient, which uses classic representational art to teach medical students visual thinking strategies.  This elective is offered twice a year and students have responded enthusiastically. The elective also takes students to the ER to practice their finely honed observational skills.

We also co-organized a series of lectures by a distinguished art historian, Jonathan Fineberg PhD, “The Language of the Enigmatic Object: Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain.”

The Program also sponsors a UCI undergraduate club for premedical and pre-health professional students, Healing through Humanities, which meets on a monthly basis to read literature and discuss the relevance of the humanities to medicine.

Finally, we worked with Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, director of the Program in Bioethics, to lay the groundwork for a combined Program in Ethics, Medical Humanities, and Spiritual Care.

Through Plexus, we started a UCI-SoM Creative Writing Contest for medical students.

The Program continues to offer elective and required courses and course components in undergraduate medical education; research opportunities for 1st and 4th year medical students in medical humanities; sponsors Plexus, journal of the arts and literature; nominates 4th year students for graduation with distinction in humanities/arts; confers the Office of Medical Education award for outstanding graduating student in humanities/arts and the UC Medical Humanities Consortium research award(s) for outstanding work in humanities research.

We also organized 2 sessions on improvisational theater for interested medical students.

The Program continues to offer elective and required courses and course components in undergraduate medical education; research opportunities for 1st and 4th year medical students in medical humanities; sponsors Plexus, journal of the arts and literature; nominates 4th year students for graduation with distinction in humanities/arts; confers the Office of Medical Education award for outstanding graduating student in humanities/arts and the UC Medical Humanities Consortium research award(s) for outstanding work in humanities research.



UC Irvine’s Program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PMHA) is dedicated to helping medical students recognize how the study of literature and the arts can deepen their compassionate understanding of patients’ experience of illness and develop insights into the doctor-patient relationship. Recent highlights include:

  • An evening at the Irvine Art Museum, courtesy of Mr. James Swinden, museum president.

Students reflected on what they could discover by looking at portraits from their patients’ perspectives.

  • An afternoon at the Bowers Museum for Art of Doctoring students, which led to a discussion of cultural and generational challenges in patient care and included reflection on how art impacts the students’ understanding of what it means to be a physician.
  • This year’s Literature& Medicine students were so inspired, they decided to continue sessions on their own when the class ended.
  • The Medical Readers Theater, which uses skits to bring together medical students and residents of an Irvine-based continuing care retirement community to reflect on issues related to aging and end of life, has now involved local high school students in writing scripts for the sessions.
  • Plexus, the Journal of Arts and Humanities, continues to publish original stories, poems and visual arts created by students, faculty and staff of UC Irvine.
  • Meanwhile, medical students have completed independent humanities-based research projects on older patients’ perceptions of pain and their physicians’ responses to this pain; and stories physicians tell about what inspires and motivates them, interpreted through the lens of classic Shakespearean themes.



As a result of its membership in the UC Medical Humanities Consortium, the Program was able to designate 4 students, 3 graduating 4th years (Jennifer Alloo, Lauren Ross, and Christina Umber) and one 3rd year (Matt Fradkin) to receive awards in humanities research and program development excellence. In addition, one first year student, Nina Narasimhalu received humanities research funding for her project on the application of Shakespearean themes to contemporary physicians’ search for meaning in their work.

The Program also was a co-sponsor of the UCI Dalai Lama Scholars’ Compassion in Medicine undergraduate course, and is participating in research to determine its influence on students’ attitudes of empathy and compassion. Dr. Shapiro was an invited participant in the PRIME (Project to Re-balance and Integrate Medical Education) Conference, in which nationally recognized educators and scholars worked to identify appropriately measurable “benchmark” standards for undergraduate and graduate medical education in medical ethics and humanities. The Dean continued to include student photography as part of the silent auction in the fundraising gala Under the Stars with great success.



The Program continues to offer required curriculum in the Family Medicine, Pediatrics, and Internal Medicine clerkships, as well as 4 electives in 1st, 2nd, and 4th years. This past year, as a result of the Program’s association with the UC Medical Humanities Consortium, in cooperation with the Department of Family Medicine and the Program in Geriatrics, we were able to fund summer research for three first year students, Steph Le, Laura Doan and David Cheng. We were also able to award two humanities research prizes to Aaron Harper, M.D. (class of 2010) and Julie Hui, MSIV. The PMHA also sponsors Plexus, the UCI-SOM journal of arts and humanities, and last year the Dean used work from the journal as part of the annual gala Under the Stars’ silent auction to raise money for the School of Medicine.



2009 was an exciting year for the PMHA. First, in conjunction with UCSF, Berkeley, and Davis, we were officially approved by the UC Office of the President (UCOP) as the UC Medical Humanities Consortium. This designation is not only a prestigious accomplishment, but also provides a small amount of funding to support collaborative research and an annual conference among the four campuses.

In addition, the program initiated a new first year elective, Anatomy of Anatomy, to explore the implications and ramifications of dissection for future professionalism, including the student-physician/patient relationship and emotional detachment/connection. In response to student request, we have introduced a second year elective, Arts and Medicine, in which patients and physicians share their artistic work and discuss how this work is related to illness experience and/or caring for those who are ill.

PMHA also joined forces with Drs. Ron Koons, a bioethicist and medical oncologist, and Elena Bezzubova, a psychiatrist, to provide required small group teaching to third year IM clerkship students on narrative medicine and relationship-centered medicine. Funding from the institution-wide geriatrics Reynolds grant provided funding to develop a required component in the third year Family Medicine clerkship using Medical Readers’ Theater involving students and seniors from a local retirement community in reading and discussing short skits highlighting issues of aging such as loss, loneliness, declining function, dementia, and end of life decisions. Finally, thanks to funding from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, we were able to install a permanent exhibit of medical student photographs at the UC Irvine Medical Center.



Exactly what is the UC Irvine School of Medicine Program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PMHA)? From humble beginnings (one elective class), today PMHA has required or elective curriculum in all four years of training. The program’s goal is to show medical students how literature and the arts can help them better understand and empathize with their patients’ experiences; and ultimately help them treat their patients more humanely and effectively.

Students enrolled in any given PMHA session may participate in a readers’ theater performance of Wit, a play about a woman dying of ovarian cancer; write a point-of-view poem from the perspective of a patient recently diagnosed with diabetes; make a “parallel chart” note recording all that they notice, imagine, wonder, and feel about their patient which has no place in the formal patient chart; interpret a short story about a patient with dementia and his family; draw a picture representing a difficult patient encounter; or reflect on cultural differences in medicine through a narrative essay.

The PMHA also sponsors Plexus, the UC Irvine-SOM Journal of Arts and Humanities, which provide students, faculty, and staff with an outlet for creative original work; and recognizes outstanding student contributions in medical humanities with the designation of graduation with distinction in the humanities/arts awarded to a deserving fourth year student. PMHA has produced research and scholarship about narrative; and the effects of exposure to arts and humanities on medical students. PMHA currently works with the Departments of Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Medicine, PM&R, Anatomy, and the Program in Geriatrics. PMHA is a member of the UC Medical Humanities Consortium.



The UC Irvine School of Medicine Program in Medical Humanities & Arts is designed to integrate arts- and humanities-based materials into medical education. To date, this curricular initiative has developed both required and elective curriculum in all four years of medical school and in two of our residency programs.

Activities include humanities and arts projects coordinated with the first year Anatomy course; point of view writing exercises in the second year to explore the patient experience of illness and the doctor-patient relationship; two humanities electives (Literature and Medicine; Reading and Writing the Experience of Illness) offered in the preclinical years; creative projects related to patient encounters as part of the third year Pediatric clerkship; reflective writing linked to sessions on cross-cultural medicine and domestic violence in the Family Medicine clerkship; a fourth year elective on the Art of Medicine; humanities consultations for students enrolled in the fourth year track “Through the Patient’s Eyes”; and a fourth year Humanities research elective that allows for in-depth study of a humanities topic related to medicine.

The Program also offers an informal track in medical humanities to medical students; as well as a designation of “graduation with distinction in humanities/arts” (analogous to the graduation with distinction in research and graduation with distinction in service) for 1-3 graduating students who have excelled in original work in the arts relevant to medicine. Humanities readings and discussions have also been integrated into the Family Medicine and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residencies.

Working with the Office of Medical Education, the Program in Medical Humanities & Arts organized the 2001 Tamkin Symposium, addressing the topic “The Role of the Humanities in Medical Education.” The Program also co-sponsored the nationally renowned physician-poet Jack Coulehan as part of the 2004 Tamkin Symposium. A similar faculty development program, “Training the Clinical Gaze: The Role of the Arts in Medical Education,” examined potential contributions of the visual and performing arts to medical training.

The Program also co-sponsored the arts- and literature-themed UC Irvine National Cancer Survivors Day Celebration in 2003. In addition, we have explored the relationship between the performing arts and medicine. “Living in the Bonus Round: Life with AIDS and HIV,” “Deep Canyon: One Woman’s Journey with Ovarian Cancer,” and “Ball” (about testicular cancer) are dramatic performances that have been presented to audiences of medical students, faculty, hospital staff, and patients for discussion and reflection.  The program also sponsors Plexus, a student-initiated journal of arts and humanities that publishes the original creative work of student, faculty, and staff members of the College of Medicine community.

The Program in Medical Humanities & Arts has received funding from a HRSA training grant in Family Medicine; the Arnold P. Gold Foundation; the California Council for the Humanities; and the UC Irvine-SOM Office of Medical Education. Several qualitative and quantitative research articles, as well as theory-building and conceptual articles based on the work of the Program have been published in journals such as Academic Medicine, Medical Education, Families, Systems, & Health, Medical Teacher, and Education for Health. Current research interests include analyses of medical students’ anatomy-related creative projects; and medical student poetry.



The Program in Medical Humanities & Arts continues to offer well-received selectives, electives, and course components across all four years of medical school training. The program is proud to be participating with Dr. Marianne Ross from the Office of Medical Education; Dr. Tara Yuan, Department of Psychiatry; and Dr. Desiree Lie, our own family medicine faculty, in a new first year selective, “The Healer’s Art,” as part of an ongoing initiative to humanize the medical education process. A record number of 4th-year students are enrolled in the humanities research elective, for which they are completing innovative research projects in various branches of the humanities and arts.



The Program in Medical Humanities/Arts continues to thrive. At Honors Night 2004, the following graduating students were recognized for distinction in humanities/arts: Marisa Chang (photography), who also received the UC Irvine-SOM Medical Humanities/Arts Award; Michael Doo (poetry); Thanh Truong (mixed media).

Dr. Robert Leonard continues to encourage first year students to reflect on their gross anatomy experience through the use of creative projects, and Marianne Ross and Johanna Shapiro have been joined as faculty commentators on these efforts by Dr. Trung Thai of the UC Irvine Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior.

The first year selective, Patient Stories/Doctor Stories, has enrolled a full complement of students; and second year students who participated in the selective last year have formed a reflective/creative writing group this year.  Under the direction of Dr. Penny Murata, the 3rd year Pediatric Clerkship continues to use art and poetry to help students reflect on their experience in Peds. Pat Lenahan and Johanna Shapiro have introduced a multi-media humanities-based session on intimate partner violence to the 3rd year Family Medicine clerkship. The Art of Doctoring elective, facilitated by Drs. Dan Robitshek of the Department of Medicine and Johanna Shapiro, continues to help 3rd and 4th year students develop specific skills to treat others with compassion and kindness while they learn to nurture themselves.

This year’s student editor of Plexus, Brian McMichaels, promises a beautiful and moving mixture of poetry, essays, photography, and art for this year’s issue. Finally, several theoretical and research articles regarding the use of humanities with student learners have been published in a range of medical education and family medicine journals.



The UC Irvine School of Medicine Program in Medical Humanities & Arts is completing its 7th year. Both elective and required curricular offerings for medical students and residents are ongoing, including the popular first-year literature and medicine selective which has been taught this year by Dr. Johanna Shapiro with the invaluable assistance of Dr. Sharon George and our own Chief Resident, Dr. Virany Kreng. The program has also und,rtaken some interesting new initiatives. Second year students Salina Lee and Gail Wong have started a Student Interest Group (SIG) for Humanities and the Arts which held an inaugural meeting using innovative readers’ theater exercises.

Under the leadership of editor-in-chief second year student Meghann Kaiser, Plexus has expanded student involvement and outreach to the SOM community. Editor Nick Athanassiou has even added an audio component! The journal’s editorial board is co-sponsoring this year’s Winter Formal, contributing an exhibition of poetry and art masks to the festivities. Dr. Shapiro and Pat Lenahan, MSW, are working with Dr. Georganne Novak to develop a humanities-based domestic violence module for the third year clerkship.



PMHA has developed a required humanities component for the Problem-Based Learning sessions for second year small groups. An integrated humanities presence continues on the Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Family Medicine student clerkships, and in the Family Medicine and PM&R residencies. With Dr. Ali Duke, I will be presenting results from the FM clerkship’s adventures in humanities at the 36th annual STFM conference, which is also sponsoring a seminar on teaching medical humanities.

Publications related to PMHA teaching appeared in Academic Medicine and Medical Education.  The Program also organized a well-received faculty development conference “Training the Clinical Gaze,” exploring uses of visual and performing arts in medical education. The PMHA is collaborating with faculty from the UC Irvine School of the Arts through the newly formed DaVinci Research Center to explore uses of art in patient care and medical education.



Dr. Johanna Shapiro was named Director of the Program in Medical Humanities & Arts for the UC Irvine School of Medicine, a position that enables her to continue efforts to introduce humanities-based teaching into medical school and residency curricula. This past year Dr. Shapiro worked closely with Dr. Ali Duke to develop humanities readings for the new family medicine clerkship. She also worked with Dr. Jerome Tobis in PM&R to initiate a monthly humanities seminar.

Dr. Shapiro presented a paper on cultural competence at the 35th annual STFM conference, and helped organize an STFM Theme Day on Research in Medical Humanities. She published several papers in peer-reviewed journals, including one on implications of narrative therapy for family physicians in Family Medicine, and one on teaching empathy to medical students and residents that appeared in Academic Medicine. She served as faculty advisor to Plexus, the student-initiated journal of arts & humanities, and worked with the UC Irvine Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center to organize a performance of a one-woman show about ovarian cancer for members of the UC Irvine SOM community.



The medical humanities initiative is flourishing at UC Irvine School of Medicine. The remarkable curricular progress made in this area could not have been possible without the support of the Department of Family Medicine, and in particular its chairman, Dr. Joe Scherger; the encouragement of the Office of Curricular Affairs (especially Drs. Dessiree Lie, Lloyd Rucker, Elizabeth Morrison, and Associate Deans Al Manetta and our own Mike Prislin); and funding from the HRSA departmental training grant. Medical humanities teaching now spans the spectrum from undergraduate through medical student and resident training to faculty development. Below is a brief synopsis of current and projected activities.

Undergraduate: This spring I taught (with several guest faculty from family medicine, including Drs. Lie, Prislin, Bent, Vega, and Mosqueda, as well as Dr. Jeff Kuo from radiation oncology) an honors freshman seminar on literature and medicine, which received very positive reviews.

Medical school: Working through the Patient-Doctor series, we are developing an integrated, progressive medical humanities medical student curriculum that incorporates both required and elective components and stresses applicability to patient care.

Patient-Doctor I: This year for the first time a required literary reading will accompany each PDI module, to be integrated in small group discussions. In addition, first year students will have two point-of-view writing exercises, in which they practice reading a brief literary selection about a patient’s experience of illness, then writing a commentary from the perspective of the narrator.

Patient-Doctor II: This course will continue the use of supplementary literary readings that are thematically linked to each module. As in previous years, co-leaders will be encouraged to incorporate the readings into small group discussions. In addition, each module will require a brief point-of-view writing assignment to stimulate the experience of empathy in learners, and to help them explore the often differing perspectives of patients, physicians, and family members.

Patient-Doctor III: As part of Patient-Doctor III, the IM third year clerkship this year will require two clinical humanities sessions for small groups of eight students each. These sessions, co-taught with Dr. Rucker, provide students with the opportunity to read about and reflect on essays and poetry describing the challenging transition from preclinical to clinical years. Each student must also complete a creative project in a medium of the students choice (i.e., literary, poetic, artistic, musical, photographic, etc.) exploring a significant experience on the clerkship.

Patient-Doctor IV: Starting in 2002, Patient-Doctor IV, imaginatively redesigned by Dr. Rucker and the OCA, will pair students over time with chronically and terminally ill patients. A medical humanities component will be present in the form of expressive journaling about students’ experiences during their final year.

Family medicine residency: Thanks to the support and encouragement of the Director of Behavioral Sciences Pat Lenahan, we continue to pioneer required medical humanities curricula in the form of monthly literature-based discussion groups thematically linked to the behavioral science focus for the month. These sessions complement the more traditional bioscientific approaches to such topics as depression and anxiety by making room for the voices of the suffering patient.

We are extremely fortunate to have had the resources this year to establish a medical humanities website, Adventures in Medical Humanities at UC Irvine-SOM, which summarizes all UC Irvine-SOM activities in this area as well as provides important resources and links. Please go visit it!

Finally, medical humanities has been selected by Office of Curricular Affairs as the focus of the 2001 prestigious Tamkin Lecture. This all-day event, to be scheduled sometime in February and free to all interested faculty and students, will combine stimulating and thought-provoking presentations on the role of humanities in medical education and expressive writing for physicians and patients with small group discussion.

I welcome working with any and all faculty and students in the area of medical humanities. As should be evident from the above summary, medical humanities at UC Irvine-SOM is very much a collaborative enterprise. If anyone has ideas or questions about how literature and the arts might be integrated into some aspect of their teaching or learning, please get in touch or drop in at any of the many exciting sessions that are ongoing on campus and Family Health Center. Medical humanities truly is an adventure!



Medical Humanities is a broad area of study that includes bioethics, health economics, history of medicine, medical sociology-anthropology, spiritual issues, as well as the relationship of literature and the arts to the practice of medicine. With the support of a HRSA federal training grant, the Department of Family Medicine recently has begun to implement a medical humanities initiative for the UC Irvine School of Medicine, with particular emphasis on literature and medicine.

The purpose of reading – and writing – imaginative fiction is to increase empathy for and compassionate understanding of ourselves and others. Literature achieves this goal by developing moral imagination, encouraging awareness of language and its meanings, and stimulating sensitivity to other people’s experiences and points of view. Literature helps us to simultaneously risk emotional engagement and step back to reflect on our experiences, both essential skills in promoting good patient care. Several activities have already resulted from this new initiative. At the medical student level, an eight-week elective for first- and second-year students, “Doctor Stories/Patient Stories,” was developed, approved, and taught last spring.

Currently, I am responsible for the medical humanities component of Patient Doctor II. I have launched a supplementary literature and medicine elective for this second year course that is attended by both students and small group leaders. I am also working with a group of first-year students to design a literature and medicine elective for spring of 2000. In addition, I am assisting Dr. Lloyd Rucker in refining the Internal Medicine clerkship’s clinical humanities sessions, which ask students to produce creative projects that express their feelings and thoughts about patient encounters. A recently conducted needs assessment survey of first, second, and third year medical students will help guide further curriculum development in this area. Other aspects of the medical humanities initiative encompass the educational spectrum from a premedical undergraduate honors elective to curriculum targeting residents and faculty.