Empathy and Compassion Training in Medical Education: Is It Neuro-Discriminatory Gatekeeping?

Last year, I co-taught the course “Medicine and Literature” with Tetyana Dzyadevych, my colleague in Russian Literature. (She deserves credit for the idea, assignment design, and most of the syllabus—I only added conceptual readings.)

Here is the course description:

This course examines the literary representation of the physician and narratives of illness in Russia from the 1860s to the present. We read fiction and memoirs from writers who were also practicing physicians (Chekhov, Bulgakov, and Veresaev), as well as semi-fictional and fictional case histories (Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, and Palei). We examine how narratives help make sense of the human experience in times of physical and emotional crisis. We trace medical ideas through history and literature, and explore how medicine employs literary concepts. We will interrogate literary works in order to see how they have influenced cultural assumptions about disease, disability, and medical authority. Addressing some of the pressing issues of the present, the reading will challenge us to question our understanding and reconceptualize notions of normality/disability, health/disease, and life/death. Located at the intersection of literature and medicine, this course aims to enhance your narrative competency and communication skills, essential to the practice of both disciplines.

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