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We are… Humanities

The Department of Humanities is an integral part of medical education at the Penn State College of Medicine. Our faculty have diverse interests, including health psychology, drama, literature and writing, end-of-life care, and ethics. As the oldest Department of Humanities in the country, we are woven into the fabric of the medical school culture.

In their first year, students participate in the Patients as Teachers  Project, which gives them the opportunity to work closely, over several months, with a person who has a chronic illness. Some students make documentary films about their patients and screen them in a project called “Video Slam.”

Humanities courses meet every Tuesday morning for two hours. Typically, the first hour is a large group session, and the second hour is a faculty-facilitated small group session. The small groups are made up of ~8 students; the students stay together in their same small groups throughout the Phase 1 Humanities courses. The required Humanities courses in the first two years include:

  • Medical Humanities
  • Mind-Body Connection
  • Critical Thinking
  • Medical Ethics and Professionalism
  • Communication

In the fourth year, students choose from a variety of humanities courses that change from year to year, depending on student and faculty interests. Recent “selectives” include jazz, photography, drama, end-of-life care, mindfulness, comics, and arts and healing.

The Department of Humanities also supports student interests in Global Health through The Doctors Kienle Center scholarships. In the past, students have traveled to Central and South America, as well as Africa and the Far East. The Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine keeps medical humanities at the forefront of education through various lecture series and a community outreach program.


Selected by their peers as future practitioners of the highest professional and personal caliber, 10% of the fourth-year class comprise our chapter of the Arnold P. Gold Humanistic Honor Society (GHHS), another venue for students to integrate humanistic principles into medical care. GHHS students currently support a homeless shelter in the nearby capital city of Harrisburg.

Putting it into Words EMAIL

Each year, two students are selected as senior editors of our in-house journal Wild Onions, which includes art, photography, and literature from any person involved with the College of Medicine or Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. This journal is distributed throughout the medical center and local community to highlight HMC’s commitment to patient-centered care and to strong doctor-patient relationships.

The Department of Humanities makes the Penn State College of Medicine one of a kind. Here’s what students have to say:

“When I talk to my friends at other medical schools and they hear what I’m doing through humanities, they realize they’ve missed something in their education.”

“Wow. Being in this selective is the perfect way to end my education at Penn State.”

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