Program for the
Medical Humanities Blog

Keepers of Culture

March 14th, 2017  |  by


“Where can I find older artists in Vietnam?” I ask the Cultural Director for UNESCO in Hanoi. Two hours later I am in the Old Quarter in search of the Ca Tru Club. Here I hope to find their founder, Ms. Lei Thi Bach Van performing. At sixty, she is considered by many a “hero”… Read more

An introduction to the PMH Blog

February 10th, 2016  |  by


The short essays that follow are informal reflections of Fellows of the UC Berkeley Program for the Medical Humanities. The Program is an interdisciplinary conversation among scholars and medical professionals about how and where medicine, medical education and the public may benefit from the humanities, arts, and social sciences. Some of those benefits are obvious:… Read more

The Question of Gender

February 9th, 2016  |  by

She walked into our small conference room staying completely in character. We had earlier propped the door open because the room was stuffy, but we closed it now as a gesture of preserving privacy. She was an actress playing the role of a 60 year old woman seeing her “new” doctor to get her prescriptions… Read more

An Old Europe Wakes Up

July 14th, 2015  |  by   “Living standards will be affected. . .” “Markets worry about fiscal sustainability. . .” “How will our economies and societies respond?” Is this the introduction to the latest disaster film? The Greek debt crisis? A global pandemic? No. It’s a description of the impact of population aging in Europe, The… Read more

Not Just an Inadequate Understanding of Hospice

February 21st, 2015  |  by

Recently, a young woman with a terminal brain cancer moved to Oregon and ended her life utilizing Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” act. This goes against everything I witnessed in my recent Palliative care and Hospice fellowship where young adults, almost without exception, hold onto life despite all our attempts to push them onto another story.… Read more

Beyond Blame

January 21st, 2015  |  by

When I stop blaming, Tolstoy teaches, a burden lifts. It’s a curious, paradoxical idea, since blaming is generally an effort to relieve oneself of a burden of guilt. Tolstoy implies that blaming itself is a burdensome business—effortful and fraught and emotionally demanding. Blame has to be nurtured and sustained. A narrative has to be constructed… Read more

The other side of evidence

January 14th, 2015  |  by

I remember the first time someone pointed out that evidence-based empirical scientific double-blind tested AMA supervised Western medicine is a belief system. Like other belief systems. Its credibility depends on a consensual notion of how to establish credibility. It has its own historical narrative that goes from experiment to discovery to correction to experiment to… Read more

The first duty of a doctor

January 7th, 2015  |  by

I’m not a doctor.  But even I know Hippocrates’ famous instruction, “First, do no harm.”  It seems perfectly reasonable to regard this as a doctor’s first duty.  At least don’t make it worse.  Don’t experiment on your patient.  Be conservative, in the best and deepest sense, when you decide on treatment options. You could go… Read more

Doing more less

January 1st, 2015  |  by

British doctors do less of everything, writes Lynn Payer, a medical journalist whose Medicine and Culture (1995), a lively comparison of medical practices in France, England, Germany and the U.S. offers compelling evidence of the surprising degree to which medicine is culturally imbedded.  American doctors do more.  If you’re practicing medicine in this country, you’re… Read more