Penn State University | College of Medicine | Research Departments | George T. Harrell Library | Medical Center |  Clinical & Translational Science Institute

For Faculty & Staff

The faculty of the Department of Humanities have traditionally represented the disciplines of history, literature, philosophy, ethics, religion, and the culture of health practices. The methodologies of these disciplines are complementary to those of the biomedical sciences–different, but equally valid and useful for the healing professions. Their content permeates the work of the practicing physician. By focusing on issues and questions raised by and within medicine, humanities teaching aims to help physicians-in-training develop the following attitudes and capabilities:

  1. Critical awareness of underlying values and assumptions of the biomedical sciences.
  2. Competence in moral reasoning.
  3. Empathy for the patient’s experience of illness and health care.
  4. Awareness of the social, political, and cultural contexts of illness and health care.
  5. Awareness of the values and beliefs that shape the physician’s goals, motivations and behaviors.
  6. A self-perpetuating intellectual curiosity, flexibility of perspective and non-dogmatism.

Humanities faculty members participate fully in the academic administrative life of the college of medicine and medical center. Each interviews medical school applicants and serves on at least one college and/or health system committee, including representation on the institutional ethics and IRB committees. Drs. Green and Levi provide leadership for the ethics case conferences organized by the medical and surgical intensive care units.

Beginning with the contributions of the founding faculty and continuing to the present, the department has made major contributions in several areas. We pioneered the concept of a humanities curriculum fully integrated into the structure of medical education, and the implementation of a curriculum that has served as the model for many other medical schools in the U.S. and across the globe. In addition, we provided leadership nationally in the development of the medical humanities as a scholarly discipline which is now represented in most medical schools. Professor. E.A. Vastyan, the Department’s first chairman, was a founder of the Society for Health and Human Values, the predecessor of the current American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. Vastyan and two previous department faculty, K. Danner Clouser and Joanne Trautmann Banks, have been recipients of the Society’s prestigious Annual Award for their contributions to the field. In 1997, David Barnard received a Certificate of Recognition for Leadership and Service from the Society. Both Vastyan and Barnard served as President of the Society for Health and Human Values. Clouser and Banks were also instrumental in the establishment of leading scholarly publications in the medical humanities. Clouser was a charter member of the editorial board of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, and Associate Editor of the standard reference work in bioethics, The Encyclopedia of Bioethics. Banks was founding editor of Literature and Medicine.

Permanent link to this article: http://www2.med.psu.edu/humanities/for-faculty-staff/