Medicine and the Liberal Arts

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Whether they complete their degrees in the College of Arts and Letters or the College of Science, Notre Dame students are admitted to medical school at a rate that is twice the national average.

Our students are undoubtedly well-trained for the scientific challenges of a medical career, but we believe we can — and should — do more. Informed by our Catholic mission, we believe that the very best medical professionals should be as well trained in empathy, in ethics, and in the social and historical background of medicine as they are in the science.

That is the aim of the Reilly Center's new Medicine and the Liberal Arts program, which will include lectures, conferences, classes, and professionalization opportunities—including summer fellowships, mentorship opportunities, and support for research positions, lab placements, and relevant internships for Arts and Letters pre-health majors.

While the programming is aimed primarily at pre-health students in Arts and Letters, it will be of interest to all students who wish to gain a better understanding of the nature of medicine, through the humanities, fine arts, and social sciences.

Educating the Whole Physician Lecture Series

October 14, 2019 (invited by Maria Alexandrova, Eck Institute for Global Health)
4:30pm - 5:30pm
125 DeBartolo Hall
"Fight Abortion, Not Women": Understanding the Challenges of Russian Reproductive Politics
Michele Rivkin-Fish, Associate Professor of Anthropology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Abstract: In 2011, the first grassroots public campaign to defend abortion as a legally accessible procedure emerged in Russia: “Fight Abortion, Not Women,” the on-line campaign insisted, using a slogan that differs dramatically from “pro-choice” advocacy in the U.S. Moreover, a phrase in the campaign’s url, “protivabort,” or “against abortion,” also challenged Western assumptions about how abortion debates are structured. This presentation will explain why many Russian defenders of legal access to abortion characterize themselves as “against abortion,” by examining the history of reproductive politics in the Soviet and post-Soviet contexts. It will also explore the changes occurring in family planning since the end of the Soviet era, and discuss the challenges and opportunities characterizing women’s health and advocacy in contemporary Russian society.

December 3, 2019 (invited by Joyelle McSweeney, Creative Writing Program)
4:00pm - 5:00pm
131 DeBartolo Hall
Narrative Medicine, Writing, and Work of Creativity
Nellie Hermann, Novelist and Creative Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University
Abstract: Narrative Medicine posits that healthcare can benefit from a more robust practice in the work of listening to, thinking about, and creating stories. In this talk, I will explore the general concepts behind the work of Narrative Medicine (as it is practiced at Columbia University) through my particular lens, which is the work of creativity. Why should those in the clinical realm know anything about how to write, or cultivate creativity? I will explore these questions and more, sharing my own experience as an example of how the work can be entered into and practiced.

January 30, 2020 (invited by Erika Doss, Department of American Studies)
Time & Location TBA
The Messiness of the Moral of Interspecies Encounters in Medical Lab Research
Lesley A. Sharp, B. Chamberlain & H. Chamberlain Josefsberg ’30 Chair in Anthropology, Barnard College and Senior Research Scientist in Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
Abstract: Lab research is guided by a host of standardized, ethical standards that shape quotidian practices of animal welfare and care while, oddly, obscuring, erasing, or denying human efforts at self-care. An attentiveness to the “messiness of the moral” uncovers the complexities of interspecies encounters in science, offering, in turn, possibilities for the (re)making of the researcher, and, thus, of the “whole physician" in and outside the lab.

March 3, 2020 (invited by Lindsey Breitwieser, Gender Studies Program)
Time & Location TBA
Theorizing Queer Embodiment: On Medical Violence and Intersex Experience
Hilary Malatino, Assistant Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Philosophy, and Research Associate with the Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University

April 15, 2020 (invited by Kathleen Eggleson, Indiana University School of Medicine South Bend)
Time & Location TBA
Materializing Illness: Collaborating Across Art and Bioethics
Devan Stahl, Assistant Professor of Religion at Baylor University
Darian Stahl, American Printmaker and Bookmaker and PhD Humanities student at Concordia University

Abstract: The presenters explore the intersections of biomedicine, narrative, and fine art to shed light on the meaning of illness. Dr. Devan Stahl will narrate her experience of being diagnosed with MS through the use of MRIs and how those images came to shape her understanding of illness. From her perspective as a medical ethicist, chaplain, and patient, these medical imagines cannot capture the lived experience of illness within individual bodies or within the cultural context. Dr. Stahl will place that pathography into typologies commonly used in literature and medical humanities to reveal the types of illness narratives that are frequently underrepresented. The second presenter, Darian Goldin Stahl, MFA, will describe how she uses those same MRIs and other medical ephemera from the scanning process to create prints, installations, and Artists’ books that layer flesh and scans to sensorially nuance the lived experiences of illness. By merging representations of their own bodies, the presenters reconstruct ill-identity in mutuality. Together, the Stahls investigate the significance of this patient-printmaker collaboration, including how it challenges the power-ontology of biomedicine and what possibilities emerge as a result of making space for a multidisciplinary perspective on illness.

April 22, 2020 (invited by Vanesa Miseres, Department of Romance Languages and Literature)
Time & Location TBA
Charlatans and Medicine in 19th-Century Latin America
Irina Podgorny, Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute in the History of Science and Permanent Research Fellow at the Argentine National Council of Science (CONICET)
Abstract: The charlatan (or quack) is a historical character defined by his itinerant existence. Traveling from one marketplace to another, dealing in exotic objects and remedies, organizing shows and exhibitions, performing miraculous cures by appealing to the healing power of words and medicaments, charlatans have traversed Europe since medieval times. Far from being confined to certain countries or regions, they were everywhere, repeating almost the same sales strategies, the same words, the same sequence of performances. Podgorny’s lecture will present the network of itinerant characters that circulated antiquities, photographs, remedies, and natural history collections in South America from the 1860s to the 1880s, in order to shed light on the role of traveling conmen, quacks, and charlatans as both agents of the circulation of knowledge and intermediaries between professional and popular medicine.


Nick Schneeman

“Having that broad-based liberal arts foundation was a huge advantage. It has let me see medicine and health systems in a way that maybe my colleagues didn’t.” — Dr. Nick Schneeman ’80, physician and co-founder of Genevive (formerly Geriatric Services of Minnesota)


Brianna Aoyama

"My liberal arts education gave me a perspective that influences the way I interact with and treat patients. I was always one of the first in my medical school class to consider all the other non-medical reasons that my patient may be sick.”
— Dr. Brianna Aoyama ’12, Pediatrician, Providence, Rhode Island