Skip to Main Content


A changing of the guard for Humanities in Medicine

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1999 - Fall / 2000 - Winter


For the past 16 years, faculty, students and the general public have gathered in the Beaumont Room one or two evenings a month to sip sherry and listen to speakers wax eloquent on the connections between medicine and art, music, politics and even cuisine. Recent topics have included “Medicine, Ethics and the Third Reich,” “Call for the Doctor: A History of Country Blues Piano,” and “The Artist’s Vision: An Ophthalmologist Looks at Art.”

Founded in 1983 by gastroenterologist Howard M. Spiro, M.D., and the late Enid R. Peschel, Ph.D., who taught French at Yale, the Humanities in Medicine lecture series was envisioned as part of a broader program to encourage students and faculty to think outside their narrow disciplines as they developed their careers. “My initial idea was to show that the humanities were applicable to the practice of medicine,” Spiro says. He first contemplated three elements of his humanities program: a lecture series, seminars for students and a humanities program for residents. While the others succumbed to a lack of funding or interest, the lecture series took hold and has flourished, with the help of associate directors Clara Gyorgyey, M.A, M.A.T., and Mary G. McCrea Curnen, M.D., Dr.P.H. “We have tried to have a kind of mix,” said Spiro, who has written several books and more than 300 articles. “I haven’t really cared too much what the topics were. I picked the people rather than the topics.”

This summer, Spiro retired from his teaching and was named professor emeritus of medicine. Thomas M. Duffy, M.D., a professor of medicine, took over as director and has plans for a number of new initiatives. They include a course in clinical ethics, a juried show of student photography, a subcommittee on the arts chaired by the Rev. Sally Bailey of the Divinity School, thesis projects on ethical issues, and involvement of New Haven visual artists in therapy programs. He believes that the incorporation of humanities into the medical curriculum will benefit both patients and physicians. Even as the medical profession is poised to make profound discoveries about the origins of life, it is under attack for neglecting the whole patient. “These initiatives,” said Duffy, “should enrich not only the student body and how they practice medicine, but also represent an opportunity to involve the larger community.”