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Electives - Humanities and Ethics in Medicine

Perspectives on Suffering: A Guided Exploration

Elective Number: 3531 (lottery)

Course Supervisor: Dr. Geoffrey Smith

Course Contact: Dr. Marcia Childress

Duration: 2 weeks

Available: Rotation 12B (SMD18 & SMD19)

Report to: Geoff Smith, MD

Time to Report: TBD (note: the course involves a total of eight seminar sessions over the two weeks; seminars will normally be at least two hours in length.)

Place to Report: TBD

Suggested Preparatory work: Cassell, EJ. The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine. N Engl J Med 1982; 306:639-645

Attendance: Attendance at elective activities is mandatory.

  • Anyone who is ill or has a personal or family emergency must contact Student Affairs and the attending on Service.
  • Students are allowed to take off up to 1 day per week to interview between November 1 and February 1.
    • Specific days missed must be approved by the Attending on Service.

Number of students per rotation: Minimum of 3, Maximum of 10

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the basic physological mechanisms and pathways of pain transmission and modulation
  • Appreciate nonphysical, existential dimensions of suffering - social, psyhological, cultural, spiritual - that are relatively unaddressed in medical training
  • Critically examine and reflect upon depictions of suffering in art, music, film, and literature
  • Address topics prevalent in today's society that broaden the conception of suffering in medicine
  • Understand major faith traditions' fundamental beliefs and practices as these relate to health, illness, and suffering
  • Examine one's own religious/spiritual heritage and culteral background as it relates to suffering
  • Reflect on ways in which one's belief system may influence professional identity and practice
  • Identify ways in which physicians can help patients persevere or find meaning in suffering
  • Compare and contrast physician and nonphysician perspectives on caregiving, including the physician's role in helping families navigate patient suffering
  • Reflect on their own professional formation, including integration of humanities study or arts practice into their professional identity
  • Design, prepare, and present to the class an individual project


Work: Specific Tasks: Reading; participation in class discussions and related activities; independent preparation of assigned work for classes; preparing and presenting a report to the class; reflective journaling; attending Medical Center Hour programs.