Medical Humanities Fellowship

Sponsored by

The Abigail Adams Institute


Through a rotating series of annual topics, the Medical Humanities Fellowship of the Abigail Adams Institute aims to help undergraduate and post-baccalaureate pre-medical students reflect on the “big questions” in medicine—the meaning of suffering, the dignity of the human person, the physician-patient relationship, and more. Often these students are immersed in the sciences with few opportunities for engagement with the medical humanities, and this fellowship is AAI’s attempt to help develop well-rounded, humanistic physicians who are familiar with the breadth of humanistic and ethical concerns so central to the practice of good medicine.


Academic Year 2018-2019 Topic:

“Reflections on the Meaning of Suffering”


In this year’s series of seminars and workshops, we will address the existential question of the meaning of suffering through the lens of physicians, patients, and caregivers. No question gets more to the heart of the work of a doctor than to encounter suffering, raising the question of how we ought to care for patients in the absence of a cure.


Our seminars will traverse multiple areas of medicine where suffering is prominent, including end of life and palliative care, aging, disability, and serious mental illness. We will also use texts from different humanistic disciplines to deepen the depth and breadth of our encounter with the subject, drawing from works in the history of medicine, literature, philosophy, and also more contemporary sources such as patient/caregiver narratives and popular films.


We hope to have an experiential component to our seminar, by having fellows shadow palliative care physician, as well as a self-directed independent study project, culminating in a final presentation.


Readings will include:

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946, “Postscript—The Case for Tragic Optimism.”

Francis Weld Peabody. “The Care of the Patient.” JAMA. 88(12):877-882, 1927

Eric J. Cassel. “The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine.” N Engl J Med. 306(11):639-645, 1982.

Farr Curlin, “Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s Attempt at an Art of Dying,” in Dugdale, Dying in the Twenty-First Century: Toward a New Ethical Framework for the Art of Dying Well (Basic Bioethics)

Emily Abel, The Inevitable Hour, Excerpts

Kleinman, “Caregiving as Moral Experience,” Lancet 380 (3 November 2012): 1550-1551


Seminar Leaders:

Director - Daniel E. Lage M.D. : Dr. Lage is a Resident Physician at Mass General Hospital and has research & clinical interests in oncology, geriatrics, and improving care for older adults. Before medical school at Harvard, Daniel completed graduate studies in policy and management at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Dr. Lage is one of AAI's Young Professional Fellows.


Eligibility and Interest:

•    Sophomores, Juniors or Seniors at Harvard College or other local colleges

•    OR college alumni 1-3 years after graduation who are taking post-baccalaureate pre-med courses and/or preparing for medical school applications while working full time (in Cambridge/Boston)

•    Able to commit to attending seminars, plus weekend seminar in the spring semester


Applications for the 2018-2019 school year are now closed, but if you're interested in attending events and talks related to medical humanities please register below:

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