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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 1984 as a natural outgrowth of the school’s signature biopsychosocial model by Dr. Robert Joynt, a neurologist, who was then Dean of the Medical School, and Dr. 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.

Since 1980, 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. A clinical 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 Law and Bioethics Theme in the curriculum.  The goal of the Law and Bioethics Theme is to teach the legal and bioethical knowledge and skills necessary for physicians to care for individual patients and provide leadership on state and national policies related to individual and public health.

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