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The Selectives

Mandatory for all students in the M1 and M2 classes

The Selectives in the Medical Humanities are intended to foster the development of creative, empathic, and intellectually adaptable physicians who are capable of using both the right and left hemispheres of their brain. Intentionally designed to provide students with opportunities to strengthen problem-solving skills, express a sense of creativity, and to consider various perspectives, these courses will support students on the journey to becoming a well-rounded physician with a strong background in both the arts and the sciences.

Employing the arts and the humanities serves multiple purposes:

  • The first is to create physicians who can develop a tolerance for ambiguity, a trait so needed in clinical practice.
  • Second, encountering the experiences of others via the surrogate means of literature, fine art, film, philosophy, etc. allows students to empathize with their patients and colleagues.
  • Third, wisdom is a key feature in decision-making and there are few aspects of a physician more important than possessing the ability to make truly wise decisions. Over the course of our short lives, we may not acquire all the experiences necessary to become wise in and of ourselves but the knowledge accrued in 40,000 years of recorded history provides us a window to the experiences of all those who have gone before us.
  • Fourth, being able to access and develop a different aspect of cognition facilitates problem-solving and creativity in multiple arenas.

Physicians with a humanities background have been noted to surpass their colleagues with backgrounds solely in science – even if they do struggle more in the beginning of their training. Musicians (and Albert Einstein) have been noted to have a larger corpus callosum, and right/left brain communication is a hallmark of flexible, “out-of-the-box” thinkers. Developing our interests outside of pure information acquisition expands our horizons, providing a buffer to the burnout that many in the medical field face, while also encouraging a sense of personal fulfillment.

Course Descriptions

Selectives are offered on a rotating basis. The selectives will consist of six sessions over a semester which will run the fall and spring of each year although different courses may be available during the fall and spring. While most will meet on Friday afternoons from around 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., expansion of the humanities curriculum has allowed the opening of additional time slots. All selectives require approximately the same time commitment.

Select a course below to read the full course description. 

This course focuses on death education, bringing attention to an often hidden, but significant dimension of human development. The course is designed to provide medical students who deal directly with dying, death and bereavement an overview of the topics, trends, research and issues that are current in the field of thanatology today. Through a series of assigned readings, students will have the opportunity to explore and evaluate medical, biological, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, and cultural topics that constitute ongoing issues in the field. Topics are centered on new definitions of death; dying and death across the life cycle; the dying process; and current concepts utilized to describe variations found with the grieving process. Students specializing in emergency services, hospice care, and gerontology are among those who will especially benefit from the subjects covered in this course. Regardless of the specialty area chosen by medical students enrolled in the program, however, each student who takes this course is certain to learn information that will serve to enhance the doctor-patient relationship and improve their overall performance as medical care professionals.

Reconciling the needs of patients, families, and communities with the practical considerations of medical decision making is a nuanced and increasingly complex process. This course provides an overview of current approaches to resolving ethical issues facing clinicians in private office and hospital practices and academic medical settings. The entire span of medical ethics including death and dying issues will be covered in case based and current issue formats. Student team debates, a discussion board, and a variety of interactive formats will be utilized in the course.

This course offers medical students a chance to add a humanities element to their course of study, focused particularly on honing their observational abilities and understanding their inherent biases when approaching visual objects and broadening to more universal themes, using perspective transformation, leading to transformative learning. Transformative learning is the expansion of consciousness through the transformation of one’s basic worldview and specific capacities of the self through a fundamentally rational and analytical, facilitated through consciously directed processes such as appreciatively accessing and receiving the symbolic contents of the unconscious and critically analyzing underlying premises. Since most of us in daily living do not appreciate how often our minds jump to conclusions, fill in gaps with our suppositions, or create whole storylines that do not in fact exist, exposing this trend with the fine arts can be quite literally eye-opening. Using the medium of fine arts removes the all too familiar medium of patients whom we begin to take for granted. Research from Harvard and Yale has shown that observational skills for clinical application are proven to be enhanced by learning to look at art. We will utilize a transformative learning.

Art is also utilized as a vehicle to reveal connections between doctors and patients as a microcosm but more broadly to reveal those interconnections among all individuals, our society, and our culture. Art can illustrate those subtleties of reality far better than logic or reason and can allow a more transcendent portrayal of reality than that which may initially present itself, busy as we are with day-to-day issues. It is all too easy to ignore truths when they are couched in a task or a test. Without time and structure for reflection, these precious insights can be lost or squandered.

Students will be introduced to the basic concepts of art and composition such as line, form, and color and will then embark on a series of looking exercises in the gallery in which the focus is to expand first from the individual to the group, then to broader empathy and understanding of the community, and finally to universal considerations. The art is especially selected to reflect the underlying goals of each session. As such, it will start off with images meant to stimulate discussion about the deeper meaning imparted in images, the goals of the artist, and the supporting details that lead to those conclusions. Subsequent looking exercises will progressively build on these concepts and will expand on the observational abilities learned in the earlier sessions. Understanding and broadening of the concepts will be ascertained through scaffolded group discussion and dialogue.

This course focuses on the practice of reflective audio and how it can empower us to be better listeners, better observers, and ultimately better physicians. The course will be part producer’s workshop, and part group discussion of nonfiction audio pieces about health and health care. We will start each session with a student-led discussion of a short radio broadcast. All students will be responsible for listening to the assigned piece before the start of class. We will read as audio producers and as physicians. Our discussion will include elements of craft, as students reflect on the stylistic choices that strengthen and weaken each piece. We will discuss each piece’s implications for medicine: How does the producer’s perspective inform his or her practice? What did that person hear and see? What perspective did he or she omit? We will also discuss the ethical issues that come up with each issue, including the role of informed consent in sharing patient stories, the use of anonymized stories, and the implications of physicians producing audio about the doctor-patient relationship.

In the second half of each session, we will then turn our attention to a group listening and workshopping session of student-created rough (not-yet-edited) audio. Each session will move students closer to the goal of a finished, edited audio piece. Students will be expected to record audio outside of class throughout the selective. In the first session, we will discuss students’ ideas about the subject matter. In the second and third sessions, we will play audio recorded by students outside of class. We will also discuss craft elements and talk about what kind of piece each student might want to create for a final project: a first-person audio essay, a reported audio documentary, a news story--or some combination of these three types. By the end of the course, students will be expected to have used audio editing software to shape their raw audio into an audio narrative. The workshop structure of the course will be facilitated by the course directors to focus our critique on constructive feedback that will help the student with the revision process. At the end of the semester, our final class session will be a listening party in which all students will present their final produced audio pieces to the class.

Nurturing relationships in early childhood build the foundation for lifelong physical health, mental health, and learning. They have the capacity to buffer the negative impact of exposure to adversity. This Selective will explore Early Relational Health as a determinant of health from infancy through adulthood and examine the biology and public health impact of early relationships. In addition, consideration of relational health through discussion and reflection during this Selective may enhance professional practice as well as provide insight into personal relationships.

This course will introduce the humanities in medicine through the exploration of emotional intelligence. Students will be presented with an overview of the origins of the theory of emotional intelligence, learn about the two leading models of emotional intelligence and explore the role of emotional intelligence in leadership, teamwork and empathy. The course will involve didactics to deliver essential concepts, large group exercises and discussions, and small group breakout sessions where students will work together on exercises covering concepts such as self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social skills. The course director is available to consult with students during the regular school day by appointment or via email.

The purpose of this course is to explore the links between climate change and health. There are three parts: the science of climate change, the health outcomes of climate change, and lastly communicating to patients and colleagues about climate change.  The course is designed to provide medical students with opportunities to learn about “the greatest threat to human health” and explore ways to discuss this emerging issue with their colleagues and patients.  Through an overview of the topics, trends, research and issues that are current in climate science and medicine, students will consider a variety of health issues related to climate change.  Students will be assigned specific readings to explore and evaluate the science, health outcomes and communication strategies.  Discussion questions will be provided to enhance further consideration of significant topics. Students will work in teams to develop two deliverables: an infographic for a particular population describing the health effects of climate change and a podcast about an area of interest that links health and climate change.  Since climate change does affect all aspects of health, there is much latitude in this assignment and creativity is encouraged.  A rubric for both assignments will be provided for the inclusion of key points.

This course will provide a more in-depth exploration of medical ethics and law and builds upon the sessions in the Foundations of Medical Practice, and the Selective: Applied Medical Ethics but taking that Selective is not required. Experts in their fields will explore issues related to critical care medicine, ethical issues in the outpatient arena, issues related to health inequities, vaccinations, and the history of medical ethics and law. The legal intersection of medical ethics will be discussed by an attorney using USMLE questions. Cases and dilemmas will be presented every session. This is designed to be very interactive.

This course provides an intensive introduction to medical Spanish with a primary focus on developing cultural competence in addition to acquiring medical terminology. Students will develop language skills necessary to communicate effectively with Spanish-speaking patients, while also gaining a deep understanding of cultural nuances and sensitivities.

Throughout the course, students will enhance their language skills to effectively communicate with Spanish-speaking patients, families, and healthcare professionals. Emphasis will be placed on developing cultural sensitivity and awareness of the diverse health beliefs, practices, and cultural values within the Spanish-speaking population. By the end of the course, students will be equipped to conduct medical interviews, obtain relevant medical histories, perform physical examinations, and provide patient education in Spanish, all within a culturally appropriate context.

Please note that this course assumes a basic understanding of Spanish and does not aim to teach the fundamentals of the language. Instead, it focuses on specialized medical vocabulary and phrases, as well as the cultural aspects relevant to healthcare interactions.

Mindfulness is often defined as awareness of the present moment without judgment. Everyone has the natural ability to be mindful, and with practice that natural ability grows stronger. Research has shown that greater mindfulness is associated with better mental health, better physical health, and better daily functioning and quality of life for students, healthcare providers, and patients alike. The core qualities of mindfulness – attention, awareness, acceptance, and compassion – can be cultivated through meditation, and mindfulness training is increasingly offered as part of medical school and residency to promote “mindful practice” in healthcare (Epstein 1999, JAMA; Epstein 2017, Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity). This course provides an introduction to what mindfulness is, the most common types of mindfulness meditation, evidence-based mindfulness interventions, and the biological and behavioral mechanisms that explain how mindfulness works to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mental and physical health. The course covers landmark scientific studies, includes guided instruction in a variety of mindfulness meditation exercises, and through inquiry and dialogue empowers students to discover what “mindful practice” means to them.

This course focuses on the practice of reflective writing and how it can empower us to be better listeners, better observers, and ultimately, better physicians. The course will be part writer's workshop, and part group discussion of published reflective pieces written about health and health care.

We will start each session with a student-led discussion of a short-published essay, which we will read in class (add). We will read as writers and as physicians. Our discussion will include elements of craft, as students reflect on the stylistic choices that strengthen and weaken each essay. We will discuss each essay's implications for the practice of medicine: How does the writer's perspective inform his or her practice? What did the writer hear and see? What perspective did he or she omit? We will also discuss the ethical issues that come up with each issue, including the role of informed consent in sharing patient stories, the use of anonymized stories, and the implications of physician writing for the doctor-patient relationship.

In the second half of each session, we will then turn our attention to a practical critique of students' writing with the goal of readying a piece to submit for publication. These miniature writers' workshops will encourage constructive feedback that will help the author with the revision process. We will dedicate 1⁄2 a class session to an overview of the submission and publication process.

Race has been, and remains, a central issue to the delivery and experience of healthcare in America. This elective will use historical trends and case studies to contextualize the role of race in American medicine. We will use a variety of case studies to examine how the patient-doctor has been negotiated, defined, and contested along the axis of race, and how that has changed over time. It will focus specifically on the history of interactions between medical practitioners and the Black community, given the unique legacies of slavery in the shaping of experiences and medical ideas in the United States. Students will have the option to draft a short editorial piece that they may choose to submit for publication.

Educational activities will focus on topics such as emotion expressed in dramatic scripts, the implied/interpreted meaning embodied in physical and vocal reactions of others and the benefits of dramatic analysis and performance as a means to build and express empathy for others. The goal is to prepare future doctors for the profession by actively engaging them in physical and vocal expression and role-playing, in simulated social and professional scenarios. Students in the class will construct and perform scenarios with class peers in order to strengthen communication and collaborative skills and to physically practice effective strategies to defuse potentially fraught encounters with others. Reflective, group discussions will take place and all acting exercises will be based on sound, ensemble based academic practice. We anticipate 10 to 15 students in the class and there will be 2 instructors in the session. Other presenters may be present depending on the session.