Humanities

Students attending the Penn State College of Medicine find humanities principles and content throughout the curriculum. With the oldest Humanities Department in a college of medicine in the country, humanism has been built into our history and woven into the fabric of our curriculum from our inception. From the moment our students start in the Profession of Medicine Course through to the last day of the fourth year, our goal is to produce compassionate, sophisticated physicians.

One student framed it this way:

Penn State College of Medicine has been transforming passionate medical students into compassionate physicians since 1967!

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Humanities Throughout the MD Program

First Year Expand answer

In the first two years, Humanities courses meet every Tuesday morning for two hours. Typically, the first hour is a large group session, and the second hour is a faculty-facilitated small group session. First-year courses include:

Medical Humanities

The doctor-patient relationship is the domain and essence of Medical Humanities. This course focuses on two people: the patient and the professional caregiver. Each brings his or her unique perspective, history, belief system, strength and weakness to the doctor-patient relationship. Medical Humanities explores topics such as empathy, suffering and resilience, death and dying, and the culture of medicine and medical education.

Science of Mind-Body

The goal of this course is for students to gain an understanding of and respect for the impact of the mind on the body, and of the body on the mind. The course explores that connection by taking up topics such as meditation and mindfulness, trauma and defense mechanisms, and the physiology of stress.

Critical Thinking

The goal of the course is to introduce an accessible approach to thinking and problem solving that will benefit students in the classroom, on clinical services, in the research lab, and in life outside of medicine. We approach critical thinking as a decision-making process that:

  • incorporates a mindful interrogation of one’s own thinking;
  • takes into account the pitfalls and strengths of prior experience; and
  • balances humility, intuition, skepticism, open-mindedness and curiosity.

Patients as Teachers Project

Embedded into the first year of the curriculum is the experiential Patients as Teachers Project, where students visit a patient in their home and learn about the lived experience of illness. Some students make documentary films about their patients, and screen them in a project called Short-form Storytelling.

Second Year Expand answer

Second-year courses include:

Medical Ethics and Professionalism

Simply being a kind person does not inoculate physicians from the complex bio-ethical challenges they face in practice. The main goal of MEP is to introduce learners to a variety of issues involving ethics and professionalism that arise in the practice of medicine, and to help prepare learners to deal effectively with such issues. MEP addresses topics such as autonomy and informed consent, advance care planning, and medical mistakes and truth telling.

Communication

One broad course goal is to take the theoretical aspects of communication and enact them in a concrete and experiential way, through an exploration of the assumptions and biases that impact communication and communicating in dyads, teams, and larger systems. This course focuses on exploring:

  • assumptions and biases that impact communication;
  • self-reflection and feedback as critical communication skills; and
  • the value of interdisciplinary teams.

Concrete topics the course takes up include nonverbal communication, empathetic statements, and open-ended questions.

Third Year/Clerkships Expand answer

During their third year, students participate in recurring small group sessions where they reflect on clinical experiences and explore how formal learning in Humanities can be challenged and reshaped by clinical realities.

Fourth Year Expand answer

In the fourth year of medical school, our students must choose one of 12 to 14 selectives. These are intensive, one-month courses designed to delve more deeply into topics that integrate clinical knowledge and experience with humanities perspectives.

Jazz and the Art of Medicine

A course that uses improvisation as a vehicle for understanding and practicing physician-patient communication.

Graphic Storytelling (Comics) and Medical Narratives

A course that reveals how graphics and text can be used effectively to communicate complex medical stories, and that requires students to depict their own stories in graphic form.

Time Slips

A creative, group-based storytelling project for persons with dementia, facilitated by students.

Photography and Medicine

A course that enables students to critically explore and create visual imagery.

There are also selectives focused on death and dying, writing and literature, advanced ethics and many other topics.

Humanities Projects Expand answer

The Department of Humanities leads a number of projects for MD students and others across Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine.

Learn more about Humanities projects

Humanities Awards

Ballentine Award Expand answer

This award was established in 1997 in memory of Thomas V.N. Ballantine, MD.

During his tenure at Penn State College of Medicine, he was not only an accomplished pediatric surgeon, but also an ardent supporter of the arts and humanities. He was a beloved faculty member who enthusiastically gave his time and energy to the pursuit of medical student education.

This award is given annually in the form of a grant to support medical student work in the arts. This work need not be related to or address the fields of medicine or science, and it may encompass any of the areas of visual arts, performance, or literary composition. Grants will be awarded to cover the costs of materials and professional services incurred in the production of selected projects.

All projects must have a public component, and priority will be given to those with relevance to or impact upon Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center community. Presentation of these projects should include a statement that this work was underwritten, in part, by The Ballantine Award.

Applications will be judged by The Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine, which reserves the right to make no awards if no suitable applications are received.

Reimbursement will be made upon the submission of receipts for an amount equal to or less than that of the award. Upon completion of their project, award recipients will be required to make a presentation of their work to the Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic medicine Board members.

Application Requirements

Applications should be submitted to The Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine, Department of Humanities H134, Room C1743, by April 15 and should be limited to two pages in length including the following sections:

  • Resume, including medical student name, class year, telephone number, campus mailbox number and email address.
  • Faculty sponsor name, department, telephone extension and email.
  • Project proposal, a short description of the type and intent of project, and explanation of relevance to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the community.
  • Samples of past work (photos, slides, etc.) are recommended.
  • Letters of support from persons knowledgeable about student’s relevant work and experience will be helpful.
  • Estimated budget, a brief outline of expected costs.
  • Estimated completion date
  • Applicant and faculty sponsor signatures and date of submission.
Clouser Award Expand answer

The K. Danner Clouser Student Research Endowment is designed to provide financial assistance to medical students while they are engaged in a research project in the medical humanities.

Consideration for an award from the Clouser Student Research Endowment will be given to full-time students at Penn State College of Medicine who propose to carry out a research project within a field of the medical humanities as part of their progress toward the MD degree. Selection criteria include:

  • the appropriateness and feasibility of the proposed research topic;
  • the student’s qualifications for carrying out the project; and
  • the identification and support of an appropriate faculty mentor.

The maximum available for the award in 2019 is $1,750. The Department of Humanities anticipates making two awards.

This money may be paid directly to a student or may be used as the department’s contribution to a work-study allocation for the summer. Funds may be used for living expenses or for expenses incurred as part of the student’s research.

K. Danner Clouser was University Professor of Humanities (Philosophy) at Penn State College of Medicine, where he taught medical ethics and philosophy of medicine from 1968 until his retirement in 1996. Dr. Clouser was instrumental in building the first Humanities Department ever established at any medical school, and was a pioneer in the newly emerging field of bioethics. After his retirement, despite his battle with cancer, Dr. Clouser continued to write and inspire others until his death August 14, 2000.

How to Apply

Students wishing to be considered for an award from the Clouser Student Research Endowment should submit the following to the Department of Humanities (C1743) no later than 5 p.m. April 5, 2019:

  • Description (not to exceed 1,000 words) of the proposed project and its potential contribution to,
    • knowledge in the medical humanities, and
    • the student’s professional development.
  • Statement of support from an appropriate faculty mentor.
  • The student’s resume or CV.
  • Budget and budget justification (breakdown of how the funds will be allocated).

For details, email humanities@pennstatehealth.psu.edu

Recipients of the award will be notified by May 10, 2019.

Joseph and Mary Caputo Alzheimer's Research Award Expand answer

The Joseph and Mary Caputo Alzheimer’s Research Award is designed to support research by Penn State College of Medicine medical students, mentored by Penn State faculty, in the field of humanistic care for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia patients. Joseph V. Caputo Sr. lived in Dover, Del., and died from Alzheimer’s disease in 1996 at the age of 80. Mary, his wife of 46 years, cared for him with love, dedication and fortitude during the 10 years of his illness.

Together, they were true examples of dignity and devotion at a time of great personal and family difficulty. The effect of Alzheimer’s disease is profound for both patients and caregivers, as well as family and friends. With this in mind, Joe and Mary’s children – Rosemarie, Janet, Joe, Greg and Karen – created the fund that supports this award.

The Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine was established to enhance treatment that is both compassionate and technically excellent, emphasizing each patient’s individual needs. Out of the Center grew a mission to support, facilitate and initiate education and research to foster compassionate, humane and patient- and family-centered care.

Given the like-minded intentions of the Caputo Alzheimer’s Research Fund organizers and the aims of the Kienle Center, the Kienle Center manages the oversight of this award, including the selection of awardees and the distribution of funds supporting the awards.

Consideration for the Joseph and Mary Caputo Alzheimer’s Research Award will be given to full-time students at Penn State College of Medicine who propose to carry out a research project with a focus on humanistic care for dementia patients. Recipients of the award are selected by a Kienle Center-designed committee composed of Penn State faculty who are familiar with the needs relevant to dementia research and patient care.

Selection criteria include the appropriateness and feasibility of the proposed research project topic, the student’s qualifications for carrying out the project, and the availability of an appropriate faculty mentor.

Proposals for the Joseph and Mary Caputo Alzheimer’s Research Award should be accompanied by a detailed budget. In general, awards of $1,000 will be offered; however, the number of awards made and the amount of each award remains at the discretion of the Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine.

Each award shall be for one academic year and is offered in accordance with and in conformation to existing Penn State endowment spending policy. This money may be paid directly to a student or may be used to supplement a department’s contribution to a Work Study allocation for the summer. Funds may be used for living expenses or for expenses incurred as part of the student’s research.

How to Apply

Students wishing to be considered for a Joseph and Mary Caputo Alzheimer’s Research Award should submit the following information:

  • Description of the proposed project and its potential contribution to improve humanistic care for patients with dementia.
  • Statement of support from an appropriate Penn State faculty member.
  • The student’s resume or cv.
  • A detailed budget.

Information should be submitted to:

Claire de Boer
Director, The Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine
Penn State College of Medicine
Department of Humanities, MC H134, Room C1743
500 University Dr.
Hershey, PA 17033

Email: cdeboer@pennstatehealth.psu.edu

Humanities Societies

Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism Honor Society Expand answer

A stylized stethoscope that forms the shape of a heart with the letters "GH" to the left and "HS" to the right circumscribed by a circle.In 1998, Dr. Arnold P. Gold and Sandra O. Gold founded the Arnold P. Gold Foundation with a mission of perpetuating the tradition of the “caring doctor.” Currently, the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) recognizes individuals across the continuum of medical education and practice who exemplify humanism in medicine, including:

  • Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine awards, which recognize one graduating medical student and one faculty member for exemplifying outstanding humanism in medicine
  • The Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Awards,
    for residents who have demonstrated commitment to teaching and compassionate treatment of patients and families, students and colleagues.

The Gold Foundation also funds unsolicited projects, such as research, lectures, curriculum development, community outreach, cross cultural education, and the publication of literary writings related to the practice of humanistic medicine which can be self-sustained and replicated. Penn State College of Medicine received a grant to develop and evaluate a Residents’ Oath program.

Gold Professorships are also sponsored by GHHS. The previous chair of the Department of Humanities, Dr. Daniel Shapiro, is an endowed Gold Professor.

The Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine was founded in 2003 by then-chair of the Department of Humanities Dr. David Hufford. Student members are nominated by their peers at the end of their third year in medical school and inducted during Fall Convocation. Throughout their fourth year, they participate in an ongoing community service project developed by GHHS students in 2009.

For details, contact Cheryl Dellasega at cdellasega@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.