Medical Humanities Initiatives Researches Holistic Healing

A special reception was held last Thursday at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center to celebrate the launch of the Medical Humanities Initiative. Featuring an unprecedented collaboration between the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, School of Humanities and School of Medicine, the initiative seeks to “promote a model of health care that is patient-centered, culturally sensitive, and responsive to community needs.”

Last October, a call for proposals to identify and support inter-school excellence was issued by the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor.

Katie Licari | Photography Intern

Katie Licari | Photography Intern


Responding to the call, a team of faculty members from Claire Trevor School of the Arts, School of Humanities, School of Medicine and School of Social Sciences gathered together to draft and submit their own proposition.

Earlier this year, then-Provost Howard Gillman announced the Medical Humanities as one of three new Interschool Academic Initiatives, beating out a pool of more than 30 entries. The initiative is eligible to receive up to $150,000 in annual funding and staff support from the Provost’s Office over the next three years.

Directing the initiative is a committee consisting of: associate professor of history Douglas Haynes, associate clinical professor of psychiatry Aaron Kheriaty, and Johanna Shapiro, a professor of family medicine.

“A group of faculty from the arts, humanities and medicine got together and [did] what faculty do, and thought about what we can do together. We pulled our intellectual resources to think about what connects us, and we arrived at health, healing and wellbeing,” Dr. Haynes said.

According to Dr. Kheriaty, several faculty members from the respective schools have been laying the groundwork for the initiative several years in advance before it came to fruition. An example of this early collaboration is demonstrated by the “Art of Doctoring” course currently being offered at the School of Medicine. Within the course, students are taught to go beyond simply practicing medicine, to “enhance the physician-patient relationship” and develop greater empathy and compassion as a physician.

“It’s not so much what illness does the person have, what person does the illness harm, so that your reading the patient in a way that isn’t just numbers, blood pressure, glucose count and you’re seeing them as a person and treating them might have to do with each individual and how you communicate with your client,” said Richard Brestoff, a member of the executive committee and professor at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

A more tangible relationship between the respective disciplines soon began materializing when faculty from the School of Humanities were invited to speak at a dinner hosted by Ralph V. Clayman, the Dean of the School of Medicine. The Dean of the School of Humanities, Dr. Van Den Abbeele, reciprocated the gesture by hosting an event for faculty from the School of Medicine. When the Office of the Provost issued the call for proposals, Dr. Kheriaty soon pitched the idea of applying to his fellow academics.

“We believe that health, healing and well-being can better be promoted if medicine reaches outside of its conventional borders. [We should look] at really important work that [is being done in the humanities] and [recognize that] there’s something really important that all these folks with their wisdom [and genius], can contribute to health, healing and wellbeing,” Dr. Kheriaty said.

In addition to promoting a more “patient-centered and culturally sensitive” model of health care, faculty members of the initiative are working to establish medical humanities as an undergraduate minor and a graduate emphasis. Faculty hope that their work will eventually create a foundation upon which an undergraduate medical humanities major and master’s program, jointly sponsored by the Schools of Medicine and Humanities, can be founded.

“Medicine doesn’t have a monopoly, science doesn’t have a monopoly on how to help people to heal. We have a lot to learn so the initiative is an effort to engage people that otherwise wouldn’t meet, wouldn’t talk to one another, wouldn’t get to know one another’s work, in order to push the boundaries and push the frontiers of what medicine can offer to people that are suffering,” Dr. Kheriaty said.

Currently, the UCI Medical Humanities Initiative is issuing a call for proposals of their own for the 2015-2016 academic school year. UCI faculty interested in research grants, curriculum development and community engagement are encouraged to apply.

Regarding the remainder of the current academic year, the initiative is hosting presentations by UCI faculty each quarter as part of its Works-in-Progress series. Providing opportunities for faculty, staff, and students opportunities to “engage in conversations about health, healing and well-being from multiple perspectives,” the talks aim to foster closer connections between the arts, humanities and medicine.

Associate professor, Lyle Massey of Art History and Visual Studies will host the first event of the series next month at the University Club on Nov. 19, where she’ll explore the changes that have occurred in the history of anatomical illustration.

“[By] finding ways to talk about the sciences in ways that intersect essentially with the humanities and shows the connections between them, [it] shows how they actually are more meaningful when they are seen through each other’s lenses.”