O’Shea: In praise of the humanities

From Heraldtribune.com   October 25, 2018

The list of people selected as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecturer has included some of the most brilliant and creative people in America: writers Toni Morrison and John Updike, academics Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Drew Gilpin Faust, filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Ken Burns.

Last week, Dr. Rita Charon, a Harvard-trained physician who teaches at Columbia University’s medical school and practices at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital delivered the annual Jefferson lecture. While practicing medicine, Charon went back to school and received a doctorate degree in English from Columbia. She developed the concept of “narrative medicine,” in which doctors apply skills learned from studying literature to better treat patients.

Research suggests that narrative medicine enhances what medical students are able to understand and value about the patients they treat, and, as such, it is becoming a core component in medical schools’ programs. In Charon’s words, “training in the humanities frees the physician and the scientist from the bias of the observer, achieving a position outside one’s own loyalties to adopt the perspective or the subjectivity of another.” She and her collaborators have shown that the empathy gained from studying literature improves medical care.

Read President O’Shea’s complete editorial here.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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