Student Clerkships

Medical Humanities Activities During Third-Year Student Clerkships

At the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, medical humanities sessions occur in all six of the third-year clinical clerkships. Materials for each are distributed at the start of the rotation. Below is a brief description of topics and materials.

Internal Medicine

During the Internal Medicine clerkship, students participate in two 1-hour sessions in small groups. Sessions involve three readings and one film clip. The first reading, Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Steel Windpipe,” concerns a young doctor whose first-person narrative reveals the extent of his anxiety while his actions are regarded positively by his assistants. In the film clip from “Talk to Her,” showing a male nurse attending to a patient in a coma as if she were conscious, students will explore questions about why suffering is represented artistically and how one relates to a person in a coma. The clip accompanies a discussion of Danielle Ofri’s “Finding the Person,” an essay about overcoming her inability to find the person in a comatose patient. Finally, Dr. Ofri’s story “M and M” concerns a resident physician’s confrontation with fears of having made a mistake and discussing it at a conference. 

Obstetrics and Gynecology

One 2.5-hour session will be devoted to medical humanities as part of the Ob/Gyn clerkship. First, the opening scene of a film, “Dr. T and the Women,” will introduce a discussion of the patient’s discomfort with the gynecologic exam. Then, two readings will be discussed. First, “So You’re Going to Have a New Body” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, an ironic story of a women’s experience with a hysterectomy, leads students to debate about physicians’ obligations to understand a woman’s relation to her body. The second reading is Perri Klass essay, “Baby Talk,” about the doctor’s dilemma in treating pregnant teens. The discussion generally centers on how a doctor can deal with her own negative feelings about the pregnancy when the teen may be happy, even when she is unmarried and in a second or third pregnancy. 


On the Pediatrics Clerkship, students engage in two 1.5-hour sessions in medical humanities. The first session is a small group discussion, led by pediatric faculty members, of "The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams. This story raises issues concerning the physician narrator’s report of his desire to “win” the battle for the sake of winning, the retrospective view of the physician regarding his emotions, and appropriate ways to behave with children (which may differ from one’s feelings). 

In the second session, students meet with pediatric residents to discuss a case that raises questions for the doctor/patient relationship. 

Primary Care

A 1.5-hour session examines Anatole Broyard’s essay, “The Patient Examines the Doctor,” in which the author describes the sort of doctor he desires when he is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Discussion centers on the patient’s point of view. 


Three 1-hour sessions in medical humanities are provided during the Psychiatry clerkship. Four readings are offered: Margaret Schehedaye’s first-person narrative of a young schizophrenic woman; “Noonday Demons” by Andrew Solomon, a successful writer who describes depression; Katherine Mansfield’s “The Man Without a Temperament” describing the mild depression of a man in a caretaking role; and Elizabeth Wurzel’s “The Prozac Nation” concerning the widespread use of psychiatric medications and its impact on society.