About Medical Humanities


To educate students and faculty about the human context of medicine by applying humanities-based knowledge and approaches to issues of health and patient care.

Our “translational” humanities model integrates the science of disease with the art of caring for the patient.


The Division of Medical Humanities and Bioethics offers courses, electives, activities and programs that use methodologies and materials from the humanities disciplines to address key issues in healthcare. These disciplines include literature, history, visual arts, philosophy, and music, as well as studies in gender, religion, culture and disabilities. As a branch of philosophy, ethics has its own programs, courses, electives and activities in philosophy, law and clinical ethics integrated with the humanities.

Through these humanities/bioethics-focused programs, the Division reinforces the biopsychosocial approach to patient care, and develops students’ and faculty’s skills, knowledge and attitudes consistent with the LCME/ACGME Core Competencies. Among these skills are ethical and humanistic patient care, mindfulness, interpersonal and communications skills, and professionalism.

History of the Division

Medical Humanities developed as an academic discipline in the early 1970s by physicians and humanities scholars to integrate humanities into medical training. Courses and lectures in humanities and medicine intersected the science, technology and objective knowledge of medicine with compassionate, attentive care of the patient.

At this time, medical educators and their Deans were concerned about the erosion of the doctor-patient relationship, the rise of technologies, the decrease in time with patients, changes in healthcare delivery and a de-emphasis on interpersonal “bedside skills” in the education of doctors. Medical training needed to be directed not just at the understanding and treatment of the disease, but also at the care of the patient. George Engel’s 1977 landmark article in Science on “The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine” was part of a larger education reforms across the country.

The University of Rochester was among the first medical schools to create a formal Division of Medical Humanities. It was founded in 1980 as a natural outgrowth of the school’s signature biopsychosocial model by Robert Joynt, a neurologist, who was then Dean of the Medical School, and Jules Cohen, an internist, who was Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education. The Deans’ vision was to solidify the presence of the humanities in the medical school curriculum by applying the materials and methods of the humanities to the study of medicine and doctoring.

Kathryn Montgomery, a PhD in English Literature, was the Division’s first Director. Jane Greenlaw, a JD with interest in healthcare law and trained as an RN, was hired shortly thereafter to teach courses in healthcare law, and ethics.

Over the three decades, the Division’s education programs in the medical school expanded to include required courses, electives and Enrichment Pathways in literature, history, visual arts, cultural, gender and disability studies. Concurrently the courses in what is now called “bioethics” in undergraduate and residency teaching developed into a robust Program in Bioethics. Aclinical component was established as an Ethics Consult Service for the hospital. In June 2012, Jane Greenlaw retired. Stephanie Brown Clark, an MD with a PhD in English Literature and Medical History, and faculty member in the Division since 1998 became the Director. Rich Demme, an MD and Chair of the hospital’s Ethics Committee became Director of the Program in Bioethics. Margie Shaw, a JD with a PhD in Ethics education, is responsible for educational activities in Bioethics, and is Director of the Bioethics Theme in the curriculum.

The Division is closely affiliated with the Program in Clinical Ethics which is a service entity of the Strong Memorial Hospital.


The Division offers about 28 Medical Humanities Seminars per year; all students are required to take at least one 8-week seminar in each of their first two years. In their third and fourth years students participate in clinically oriented medical humanities conferences in the third-year clerkships in medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, and psychiatry. They can select from an array of diverse electives in the history of medicine, literature and medicine, fine arts, film, creative writing, clinical ethics, palliative care, and health care law in both the pre-clinical and clinical years. Residents and fellows can arrange with Division faculty to take these electives. Extracurricular educational activities of the Division include Medical Reader's Theatre presentations for faculty, residents and students, and the G.W. Corner History of Medicine Society for the URMC and general Rochester communities. The Division also offers a cluster of enrichment programs, called Pathways, in Medical Humanities/Bioethics, in Deaf Health, and in Latino Health.

Interdisciplinary Clinical Ethics Noon Conferences

Under the Knife Near the End of Life: Contradiction or Congruity
Presented by Carolyn E. Jones, M.D., Associate Professor, Surgery (Thoracic)
Wed, April 1, 2015, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Room K-207 (2-6408)

Medical Humanities and Bioethics Noon Conferences

No noon conference in April.