Academy for Medicine & the Humanities Courses

We offer elective courses through Nexus Learning. We gear these courses toward first- and second-year medical students and align with the mission and vision of the medical school.

We require all students to take Art of Listening I; the second Art of Listening class is optional.

The Academy holds open houses every week from 12 pm to 1 pm on Thursdays to discuss medical humanities, student research, special events (including monthly meetings to coordinate the Richman Lecture Series, and to engage in reflective writing). These weekly sessions are open to all members of the Mount Sinai community. These sessions are currently being held over Zoom. To receive emails about the series, please contact Special Events Manager, Samantha Amazan at

The Nexus program, established by Suzanne Garfinkle, MD, and Beverly Forsyth, MD, enhances the formal medical school curriculum with electives in a wide range of both humanities and non-humanities subjects. The Academy for Medicine and the Humanities runs a series of courses under the Nexus umbrella, and is designed to allow students to explore a wide range of subjects, including literature, creative writing, music, visual arts, history, and the social sciences. These courses are taught by a range of experts including Mount Sinai faculty, visiting instructors, and medical students. The courses are designed to fit the needs and schedules of first- and second-year medical students, but many of them are open to everyone, including third- and fourth-year students, house staff, faculty, non-MD trainees, and staff. Academy-run courses appear in the online Nexus course catalogue under the department “Medical Humanities” (AMH) and have included:

  • The Pulse of Art
  • The Dream Machine
  • Improvisation for Medical Students
  • Creative Visions (Drawing, Photo)
  • Improvisation for Non-Improvisers
  • History and Philosophy of Science-Based Medicine
  • History of Medicine
  • Literature and Healing
  • Growing and Aging
  • Words to Live By

Students can design and teach their own courses to fulfill a scholarly requirement, or independent of formal research. Among the courses students and trainees have designed in the past are: Music and Medicine, Narrative Medicine, Mindfulness for Health Care Providers, Food as Medicine, Positive Medicine, The Physician as Writer Post-1980, Poetry and Medicine, Pandemics and Society, and more. For information about taking or creating Academy-Nexus Courses, please contact both Dr. Garfinkle at and Dr. Forsyth at  

The Academy for Medicine and the Humanities invites students at the Icahn School of Medicine to propose ideas for projects in the medical arts and humanities that would be eligible for summer funding.  Although students are expected to engage in serious intellectual inquiry, the track supports both traditional and non-traditional approaches to these fields including creative endeavors that are contextualized with scholarship. Projects should relate to the student’s previous experience and future professional or academic goals. Examples of successful projects include: 

  • Developing curricula (e.g., creating an Academy/Nexus course) 
  • Conducting research (e.g., in medical humanities education) 
  • Developing creative projects with a grounding in clinical experience and a clear objective that serves medicine 
  • Producing publishable articles intended for an academic or popular audience 

The track advisor, consulting with other faculty, approves all projects, including the topic and clinical experience. Once the project is approved, the track advisor assigns the student at least one mentor; some projects require separate mentors for the clinical and for the artistic or academic aspects. 

Students must select a clinical mentor from ISMMS faculty. Non-clinical mentors must have a demonstrated record of expertise in their area of study. All mentors who are not ISMMS faculty members must submit a letter of commitment to the mentor role and in support of the project.  

Mentors meet with their student mentees at least twice during the summer period and, optimally, on a weekly basis. Mentors write progress reports during the course of research and submit a final report at the end of the project period. Building a strong relationship with a faculty mentor is a core component and benefit of the scholarly endeavor.

Students are strongly encouraged to produce a paper, journal article, presentation, public policy intervention, or program evaluation, and to submit work for presentation at external scientific meetings and/or for publication in peer-reviewed journals. In some cases, external dissemination of student work will qualify for the honor of Distinction in Research.

Participating in the Medical Humanities Scholars Track allows students to fulfill their research graduation requirement by submitting a first-author abstract approved by the mentor and track advisor for Medical Student Research Day and presenting the project as a poster or an oral talk. We anticipate that students who continue to work on their summer projects during FlexTime in the fall of Year 2 will be able to fulfill the graduation requirement at Research Day in the spring of Year 2. 

Students interested in doing a humanities project for their scholarly requirement, typically during the summer after their first year, should begin to meet with MSRO followed by meeting with Dr. Garfinkle and Medical Humanities Track Advisor, Jacob Appel, MD, MS, MPH, in the early fall.

Drs. Garfinkle and Appel will help connect students with mentors, who will help them refine their ideas, create abstracts, and prepare (if necessary) for IRB submission by the late fall. Many students start working on their summer projects in the winter and spring. It is important to bear in mind that while the summer is only eight weeks, most projects proposed can be completed (or near completion) within that time. The summer is often a time when projects get off the ground, but students are invited to continue or publish their work after the summer has passed. All deadlines and milestones are provided by the MSRO and are the same as those for the other research tracks. For more information about the MSRO, please contact Mary Rojas, PhD at

Examples of past scholarly projects:

  • Notes from Riker’s Island: Qualitative Research on Structural Violence
    Jeremy Levenson 
  • Exploring the History of the Woman’s Hospital of New York
    Hayley Lynch
  • Imagining a 'Gothic Disability'
    Olivia Moscicki 
  • Histories
    Sue Li 
  • Ethics paper about Autonomy in Medicine
    Ben Shuham 
    Prapti Chatterjee
  • Comic Book on Sickle Cell Disease
    Olubumi Okunlola
  • Goals of Care and Patient Story Telling elective
    Ian Kwok
  • Family Secrets in Medicine
    Gabrielle Surick
  • The Pulse of Art research project
    Gabriel Slamovits

During its first decade, the Academy has developed special areas of focus in the fields of creative writing and visual arts.

Writing: “Words to Live By” is a creative writing elective that has been taught continuously every semester since the Academy’s founding.  Past visiting instructors have included the New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv, Pat Walters of Radiolab, and best-selling authors Catherine Lacey and Hannah Lilith Asadi. The current instructor is visiting artist Anu Jindal. The faculty advisor since the course’s inception in 2012 has been Dr. Appel. 

The course is taught in the “workshop” format with students discussing each other’s writing and also engaging with published works by literary authors. Both experienced writers and novices are welcomed. In the past, students have gone on to publish stories and poems developed in “Words to Live By” in both medical and literary journals and have won prestigious prizes in the medical humanities. The Academy has also offered various seminars in narrative medicine.

Visual Arts: The Pulse of Art is one of the cornerstones of the Academy. It is an interdisciplinary survey of art history and the history of medicine, taught by Bobbi Coller, an art historian and curator, and Barry Coller, a hematologist, the former Chair of Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai, and currently Physician-in-Chief of Rockefeller University. The course is popular with students, house staff, and faculty, and includes visits with guest artists and museum tours. A single session taught by the Collers called the Art of Observation is taught to all incoming students during Orientation, paired with the Art of Listening. Other visual art offerings in the Nexus program have included Creative Visions, a spring course taught in modules by different physicians and artists including “Photographic Seeing” by photographer Gail Albert Halaban and “Drawing for Medical Students,” by medical illustrator, Jill Gregory. A new course on digital drawing, “Draw Your Way through Medicine,” was created by medical student, Rebecca Kellner in 2020.

Music:  A student-run music and medicine course is offered most years, and has been supported by faculty members Daniel Caplivski, MD, and Michelle Rhee, MD. Students interested in music therapy are invited to contact Joanne Loewy of the Louis Armstrong Center at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

Suzanne Garfinkle, MD is the Director of the Academy.  She is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist in private practice in Manhattan and the founding director of the Academy for Medicine and the Humanities at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. A lifelong New Yorker, she received a BA in English from Amherst College, an MSc in theoretical psychoanalysis from University College London, and an MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She has taught in the Narrative Medicine program at Columbia and has had fellowships with the Folger Shakespeare Library, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the American Association for Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training. Dr. Garfinkle is also a writer, and has published book chapters, and articles on topics in psychiatry for both academic and popular audiences. Dr. Garfinkle can be reached at

Jacob M. Appel, MD, JD, MFA is the Assistant Director of the Academy and the Medical Humanities Track Advisor. He is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Medical Education and also serves as Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. Dr. Appel is the author of four literary novels, ten short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas. He is one of the judges for the National Book Critics Circle Awards and co-chair of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry’s Committee on Psychiatry and the Law. The best way to contact Dr. Appel is by email at

Samantha Amazan, MPA is the Special Events Manager for the Icahn School of Medicine. She manages the development and marketing for all of the Academy events, including the Richman Lecture Series and Academy Forums. She can be found in the Office of Medical Education in Annenberg 13-30, or reached at She can answer many administrative and procedural questions.

The Academy also collaborates closely with Mount Sinai’s Office of Well-Being and Resilience on ventures that relate mutual core goals of promoting community wellbeing through the arts and humanities.