Academy for Medicine & the Humanities

The Academy for Medicine and the Humanities, launched in 2012 as part of the Department of Medical Education at the Icahn School of Medicine, serves the medical school by providing opportunities for didactic learning and independent scholarship in the medical arts and humanities. While we offer most activities within the Academy on an elective basis, we strongly encourage students to participate in the Academy at some point during their medical school experience.

What is Medical Humanities?

The term "medical humanities" refers to the application of the arts and humanities to medicine. Humanities is a diverse area of study devoted to understanding and depicting what it means to be human. We believe doctors have a duty to confront not only the illnesses our patients bring, but also their suffering.  By incorporating art, music, writing, and philosophy into medical education, the Academy challenges our students to cultivate the empathy and reflective skills necessary for meaningful and therapeutic medical practice.

Some Academy programs, such as the Art of Listening, are mandatory for all students. You can participate more extensively, however, through elective course offerings at all levels of medical education, or by applying to the Medical Humanities track of the Scholars Program.

I wish there had been an Academy for Medicine and the Humanities when I was a medical student. As you may know by now, becoming a doctor is not easy. Some of the experiences of medical school challenge your humanism as much as they enhance it. As a preclinical student, I found myself excited by all of the new scientific knowledge I was accumulating, but distanced from the "bigger" questions and ideas that had attracted me to medicine in the first place. (For example, "What is human suffering and how will I relieve it?" "How do you help people come to terms with their illnesses?" "How do you help someone face death?") Even when I began to see patients, I was surprised by how hard it was to integrate my medical responsibilities—what to know about their illness, how to do a physical exam, how to interpret their clinical data, and how to be a part of the team—with my desire to learn about the person in front of me. How could I get to know his or her "story" in a way that enabled me to help, beyond being kind and professional? It is old news that many factors get in the way of medical professionals doing both of these things well.

The Academy for Medicine and the Humanities is here to recognize and inspire your curiosity about humanity and to enhance your humanism as a medical student and physician. We do this by providing knowledge—that is, formal instruction in the medical arts and humanities; strengthening skills and attitudes fundamental to humanistic medical practice, like strategies for reflection and tolerance of ambiguity; and providing opportunities for independent scholarship and creative work. We value your lives and experiences prior to and alongside the study of medicine, and take seriously your efforts to integrate them into your medical careers.

It is established that the strategic implementation of art, music, and narrative study in medical education creates doctors who are more empathic, more satisfied, and less likely to burn out. It is fundamental to us at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai that we produce this type of student and future physician, and we are thrilled to offer you a rich variety of opportunities in the medical humanities.


Suzanne Garfinkle, MD
Director, Academy for Medicine and the Humanities
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai