Medical Humanities – The Stony Brook Context

The section for Medical Humanities is built on a rich foundation of scholarly and artistic expression first described by the great medical philosopher and founding Dean of the Health Sciences Center, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino. In his famous Sanger Lecture in 1970 he stated, “Medicine is the most humane of sciences, the most empiric of arts, and the most scientific of humanities.” Indeed, Stony Brook University Medical Center has held true to this vision of medical research and education focusing on the most human aspects of medical care.

In 1992, the first issue of Contexts, was printed. Reverend Robert S. Smith, Director of Stony Brook’s Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society hoped this newsletter would serve as a forum for multidisciplinary and public discussion of the issues and ethical quandaries facing contemporary health care. All members of the Stony Brook community, faculty, staff, and students, were invited to contribute articles, essays, and personal reflections around timely and important themes such as decisions to limit treatment, in-vitro fertilization, and the bioethics of managed care.

The capacity for thoughtful and intelligent conversation in this community was evident , the program and the periodical grew. A grant to establish The Guild Trio was awarded, and provided for three Artists-in-Residence to perform free classical music concerts in the Hospital Lobby and at the Medical School. Visiting scholars and fellows from the medical, social, and spiritual disciplines joined the conversation, presenting landmark research and lending unique frames to difficult case studies.

As the field of Medical Humanities developed, Contexts remained an important forum for the writers, artists, and thinkers of the Long Island medical community. The newsletter was now a glossy journal, with one annual issue devoted entirely to creative writing and health care. Starting in 1999, an annual prize was offered by the Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society, and judged by internationally renowned medical authors, such as Dannie Abse, Richard Selzer, Rafael Campo, and Cortney Davis. Each of these judges faced hundreds of entries in categories of prose and poetry. Director of the IMCS, Dr. Jack Coulehan, remarked in the pages of Contexts how varied, moving, and thought-provoking the works were. Winning pieces were published in the Writing Issue of Contexts, and the prizes awarded at special live reading events by the Judges each year.

The Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics proudly embraces the nurturing tradition of Medical Humanities fostered in the Stony Brook and greater Long Island community by the Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society. In the spirit of this legacy, Stony Brook medical students participate in an annual “Evening of the Arts,” showcasing their immense extracurricular and creative talents, and created and produced Virtual Poetry Slam, an interactive poetry reading of poems within the illness and healing context. The group Astonished Harvest is being organized this fall to workshop poetry written along these themes. Looking forward, the Center realizes the vista of the Medical Humanities is vital and unlimited, but that we at Stony Brook have a unique and privileged vantage point, standing on the shoulders of giants.