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Literature as Path Toward Understanding Illness

Web Weekly: News from the Harvard Medical Community (Cambridge, MA) , September 26, 2005


Two mentors loom large in my introduction to the ‘medical humanities’: Dr. Ronald Schleifer (professor of English) and Dr. Jerry Vannatta (professor of Medicine), who co-taught a colloquium at the University of Oklahoma.

Ours was a consultation of literature as a way to probe the subtleties of the patient–doctor relationship, including issues regarding professional ethics. An outline of what we discussed and to whom we looked for guidance could be found in an anthology such as On Doctoring, which is distributed to matriculating medical students at Harvard and across the country.

Just recently, both professors published their own “anthology” in the form of an interactive DVD-ROM titled Medicine and Humanistic Understanding (UPenn Press; see review in The Journal of the American Medical Association, July 27, 2005).

This compilation features several notable people who are involved in teaching medical trainees about the narrative form of the “history of present illness” and about the empathetic competency necessary to relate to patients.

Subjects Covered: education, medicine

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