Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics celebrates 10th anniversary

SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 2, 2012) — For a decade, the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics has taught ethics and professionalism while nurturing empathy and humanitarian values in students at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. These vital lessons come from the classroom and the community, at home and abroad, through arts and literature and through practical, hands-on experience.

The Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics celebrates its 10th anniversary Oct. 10-12 with a series of distinguished speakers and guests. The events, all free and open to the public, include:

    • Oct. 10 at 5 p.m.: A community-wide discussion on health disparities facing Bexar County. The discussion is the eighth in the “Conversations about Ethics” series presented by the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics and the Ecumenical Center for Religion and Health with support from Methodist Healthcare Ministries.
    • Oct. 11 at noon: Laurie Garrett, a science journalist, best-selling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, George Polk Award and Peabody Award. Garrett is currently senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her presentation, “Betrayal of Trust: Critical Issues in Global Healthcare,” is the 10th annual Frank Bryant, Jr., M.D., Lecture in Medical Ethics.
    • Oct. 11 at 6 p.m.: Abraham Verghese, M.D., professor of medicine at Stanford University and founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics. Author of the best-selling “Cutting for Stone” and two memoirs, Dr. Verghese will present on “The Pen and the Stethoscope.” His visit is the Ewing Halsell Distinguished Lecture.
    • Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.: Richard Kogan, M.D., a psychiatrist and concert pianist. Through the universal language of music, Dr. Kogan explores the personal, medical and psychological history of famous composers who created great art despite monumental personal challenges. This concert-lecture will focus on the life and work of Ludwig van Beethoven.

All events will be held in the UT Health Science Center’s Holly Auditorium, located at 7703 Floyd Curl Drive in San Antonio.

The speakers were chosen to reflect the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics’ four key areas of focus: professionalism and ethics; community service learning; global health; and art and literature. Each of those, in its own way, supports the center’s overarching goals: preserving students’ innate idealism through years of rigorous training, and ultimately, preparing tomorrow’s healers to act with compassion and justice.

“We must cultivate qualities that produce graduates with a deep sense of caring and strong communication skills,” said Ruth Berggren, M.D., director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics and professor in the School of Medicine. “Through our ethics courses and electives, our focus on experiential learning and community service, and the inspiring speakers who come to our campus, we hope to nurture the empathic and committed health care professionals that you would want for yourself or your family in a time of illness.”

Professionalism and ethics are introduced in traditional classroom settings. In large lectures and smaller discussion groups, students are introduced to core ethical concepts. “We discuss what those principles mean when applied to real-life cases,” Dr. Berggren said, “and students try to understand how they can be used to problem solve.”

The center is working with the graduate medical education program to continue clinical ethics beyond medical school and into internship, residency and beyond.

Global health involves not only elective courses but also opportunities for learning far from the classroom, in places as diverse as Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with an emphasis on resource-limited settings.

“Global health is uniquely transformative for our students,” Dr. Berggren said. “What they find is the same human stories – inequality, lack of access to health care – are all there, just as they are in our own community. But it becomes possible to look at those dilemmas from a more objective perspective in a new context with different players. Core truths become more evident.”

“What they bring back with them,” she added, “is a lifelong commitment to making lives better in every community.”

Community service learning offers an opportunity to put ethical principles into action in San Antonio and South Texas. Students consider community needs and work with mentors and local agencies to find solutions. “In the past 10 years, we’ve become more and more known for the work that we do in our community,” Dr. Berggren said.

Currently, five student-run free clinics provide primary care and health screenings at no cost. Other students have led innovative projects to address community-identified needs, such as helping teenage mothers learn to breastfeed their babies or designing a summer program to teach urban adolescents to make healthier choices.

Art and literature give students a chance to reconnect to their original purpose in entering the healing professions and help them better imagine others’ experiences, a key skill for the cultivation of empathy, which, in turn, guides ethical decision making.

Opportunities include the “Literature and Medicine” elective and the “Art Rounds” program, which takes medical and nursing students to the McNay Art Museum, where they learn to become better observers and more aware that others’ perspectives may differ from their own.

“Exposure to art and literature reconnects us to those things that fundamentally make us human,” Dr. Berggren said. “That helps us to be better caregivers, better listeners and people who bring more compassion to the clinical encounter.”

The Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics was established in 2002, when Dr. Verghese was recruited to lead it. Dr. Berggren assumed leadership of the center in 2007. Over its history, the center has greatly expanded its offerings and innovations for interprofessional education.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $231 million in fiscal year 2011. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 28,000 graduates. The $736 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,”   visit

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