Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Allen, Annette

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Fulton, Christopher

Committee Member

Fulton, Christopher

Committee Member

Hanson, Stephen

Committee Member

Shawler, Celeste

Author's Keywords

medical humanities; medical humanities pedagogy; compassion; narrative medicine; mindfulness; bioethics


This dissertation argues that medical humanities education for students considering careers in healthcare should begin at the general undergraduate level and should have two primary objectives, (1) providing tools that will help students foster therapeutic, compassionate relationships with their patients, and (2) providing strategies that will help students maintain healthy habits of mind that afford resilience against compassion fatigue. I assert that in order for students to practice compassion for themselves and others three core objectives must be met. (1) Students must be exposed to the fundamentals of bioethics in order to understand the virtue of compassion itself, (2) they must develop expertise in the tenets of narrative medicine in order to fully comprehend the causes of suffering in their patients, and (3) they must be introduced to the practice of mindfulness as a means of self-care. The following chapters suggest that literature and the visual arts offer the most effective means of teaching these concepts and present a pedagogy that incorporates traditional academic theory as well as practical application of knowledge. Chapter one introduces the tenets of narrative medicine through the study of Frida Kahlo’s 1932 painting, Henry Ford Hospital. Chapter two explores the concept of empathy, a prerequisite to compassion, using short stories by Eudora Welty and Richard Selzer. Chapter three uses ancient and modern dramatic literature to introduce the fundamentals of bioethics. Chapter four introduces the concepts of mindfulness and creative “flow” and suggests that engagement with and creation of fully abstract visual art helps students experience and practice the healthy states of mind that provide resilience against compassion fatigue. Chapter five presents a case study that attests to the importance of the medical humanities pedagogy described in this dissertation.