Bestselling Author’s Visit Highlights Importance of Medical Humanism

Abraham Verghese, MD.

Abraham Verghese, MD

Published May 21, 2014

The School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences welcomed bestselling author Abraham Verghese, MD, to Buffalo for his talks about medical humanism, a key focus for University at Buffalo medical students, trainees and faculty.

“Medical students, residents, UB faculty, community physicians and booklovers in general engaged in lively discussions about doctoring and cultural diversity through literature.”
Roseanne C. Berger, MD
Senior associate dean for graduate medical education, associate professor of family medicine

Medical humanism — in which the goal is not just eradicating disease but effectively communicating, empathizing and showing compassion for patients — is a concept Verghese emphasizes in his work and discussed with members of the medical school community during his April visit.

‘Art’ of Medicine Will Be Infused in Students’ Education

Verghese is an advocate for the “art” of medicine and patients’ rights. 

The “art” of medicine is a concept that the recently established UB Center for Medical Humanities will help medical students explore via innovative curricula and programs.

Students will deepen their understanding of the human dimension of medicine — which encompasses issues of sociology, anthropology, ethics and professionalism — through coursework and optional enrichment sessions.

They also will have opportunities to observe artwork in local galleries to build skills they need to examine patients carefully, and they will consider humanistic and diagnostic questions via problem-based learning models.

Linda Pessar, MD, director of the new center, led discussions of Verghese’s books; she believes literature and the arts can help medical students develop their powers of observation and understand the patient’s point of view.

Verghese Shares Insight with Honor Society Members

During his visit to Buffalo, Verghese discussed humanism with residents and fellows of the UB chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, a program of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

Verghese, a board member of the Gold Foundation, writes about the need to “minister to more than just the body, but also to the soul” in his work.

The notion of caring for the soul — and developing sensitivity to the values, autonomy, cultural and ethnic backgrounds of others — is an important focus for members of the honor society.

Fostering ‘Lively Discussion’ Through Literature

Prior to Verghese’s visit, the medical school joined with Just Buffalo Literary Center and other community partners to host two book discussions, each attracting nearly 50 participants.

“Thanks to our community collaboration, medical students, residents, UB faculty, community physicians and booklovers in general engaged in lively discussions about doctoring and cultural diversity through literature,” said Roseanne C. Berger, MD, senior associate dean for graduate medical education and associate professor of family medicine.

Discussions focused on Verghese’s books, “My Own Country,” an autobiographical work about his experiences during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and “Cutting for Stone,” a novel about a surgeon’s life in Ethiopia.

The author holds multiple positions at Stanford University’s School of Medicine: professor, Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor and vice chair for the theory and practice of medicine. He was founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.