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Medical Humanities MA Program Accepting Applications for Fall 2013

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Exploring the Human Side of Medicine

Andrew Flescher, PhD, director of the MA program in Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics (photo by John Griffin)

As it prepares to graduate its second class of students next month, Stony Brook University’s Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics is now accepting applications on a rolling basis for the Fall 2013 semester of its Medical Humanities MA program. Open to anyone interested in exploring the mutually enhancing themes of bioethics, medical humanities and compassionate care, the program can be completed in one to three years.

Although the program is geared toward those in the healthcare industry, such as doctors and nurses, a number of professions can benefit from a knowledge of bioethics, including lawyers, journalists, insurance or pharmaceutical professionals, as well as those who care for disabled populations, to name a few.

“At Stony Brook, we take very seriously the prospect of ‘compassionate care,’ which is not a redundancy but rather a virtue that requires some cultivation,” said Andrew Flescher, PhD, director of the MA program in Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, in explaining the need for Stony Brook’s program. “We are living in an era in which medical ethics questions are suddenly appearing on the MCAT exam as well as on medical board exams, and studies show that medical students are in danger of losing empathy in their third year of medical school.”

“Initiatives such as the Stony Brook program are sprouting across the country to take seriously the elevating of the patient’s perspective among hospital physicians and staff,” he added.

With a core faculty consisting of two medical/biomedical ethics scholars, two evolutionary and social psychologists, a historian of medicine (who is also a physician), and a scholar of law (as it relates to biomedical ethics), Stony Brook’s distinctive program takes an interdisciplinary approach to education, giving students broad exposure to a range of issues in bioethics.

“Those who receive an MA in a program like ours will be able to participate in dialogue that leads to reasonable policies in the area of biomedical ethics,” he said. This practical aspect is also reflected in the humane treatment of other individuals, whether that treatment pertains to bedside manner or to an insurance company’s ethical treatment of its policyholders.”

Another benefit of the MA degree is that it can be a steppingstone to other programs and opportunities. “When people have an MA degree, it may help them when they apply to medical or other professional schools,” said Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. “They find opportunities in hospital settings, internships and in research positions in medical ethics centers,” he added.

Having a degree in medical humanities is especially relevant in a world in which medical technology, research and procedures — including organ donation, in vitro fertilization and genomics, to name a few — are progressing rapidly, according to Flescher. Indeed, such advances require a focused look at the bioethical issues surrounding those practices in healthcare settings.

Bioethics policy is far reaching, having ramifications on both a local and national scale. In the Affordable Health Care Act, for example, patient satisfaction has now become a critical criterion for how hospitals are reimbursed, Flescher said.

Although bioethics is “touched on” in many medical schools, “there isn’t enough time in most curricula to examine pressing issues in depth, nor is there an opportunity to pursue issues in a manner that allows for a scholarly research experience,” Flescher said.

To address this problem, the Center is working on implementing a joint degree program through which medical, nursing and students from other professions also can receive the Medical Humanities MA. This will offer them an opportunity to examine traditional and cutting-edge bioethical issues in depth while considering how new policies may affect an individual’s well-being.

For more information about the MA program in Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, visit The deadline to apply for the program is May 15 for international applicants; July 1 for domestic applicants.

— Susan Tito

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