Arts & Humanities in Residency

Thoughtful1Associate Residency Director, Dr. Fred Schiffman, serves as the Sigal Family Professor of Medicine at Brown. This endowed chair has allowed him to organize and enhance the humanistic care of patients throughout the hospitals and our residency. He has developed a variety of innovative humanistic programs and projects with students, house officers, and faculty. The Department of Medicine and the Internal Medicine Residency often serve as the epicenter of such activities, with other participants invited to participate in and lead programs offered for our residents and students.  Selected activities in the Department of Medicine are described below.

Associate Program Director, Dr. Fred Schiffman, appeared on the “Medicine Mentors” Podcast

Dr. Schiffman explains Brown’s focus on Humanism in Medicine how it contributes to excellence in practice and medical education.

These are some of the programs which we offer. Virtually all of them center around or include a place for medical resident participation. It is our belief that the best medical care is patient and family centered and based on consideration of a holistic and humanistic view of a patient’s illness.

Selected Activities

  • Brown Residents Writers Workshop

    A recent and meaningful group, the Brown Residents Writers Workshop, has been organized and led by one of our residents. In this group we read, write, and critique all forms of narrative medicine - those written by well-known and lesser known authors, as well as those of our own creation. Over dinner, we active discussions about reading and writing literature, both related and unrelated to medical care. Will Rafelson, one of our residents (currently a Hematology/Oncology fellow at Brown), organizes this activity with a variety of faculty mentors.
  • Poetry at Morning Report

    During the year in the context of Morning Report, we have also read poetry. The poems can be of our residents’ own creation or those of other authors. Selected poems will often reflect the emotional and/or spiritual aspects of caring for those in need. This allows us to get to know our house staff in a different and perhaps more meaningful fashion. It is also quite a bit of fun.
  • Cops and Docs at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

    Another activity that began with our residents is called Cops and Docs at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Residents and Providence police detectives gather and look at works of art and critique them from our specific viewpoints. There is more in common than one might imagine – we all take histories, seek suspects & clues, discuss cases and use these data to reach conclusions.  At the RISD museum, residents are paired with detectives and together make careful observation a habit, learning to describe what we see, link form to function, avoid preconceptions, consider multiple right answers, wonder openly and embrace ambiguity. We learn to think metaphorically, appreciate context, and learn about ourselves as a viewer as we create partnerships with our professional colleagues. Most importantly we learn to recognize our patients’ and our own shared humanity. After this exercise, the museum docent provides us with background on the artwork viewed, teams share their impressions and we all have supper together.

  • Gold Humanism Honor Society

    Dr. Schiffman serves as the faculty advisor of the Gold Humanism Honor Society at Brown. Many of our own residents and graduates of our house staff program are key participants in every activity that our chapter sponsors. Medical students and residents participate in projects regarding communication, mindfulness, humanistic physical diagnosis, literature, art in medicine, grief rounds, poetry and theater.
  • Division of Hematology/Oncology

    In our division of Hematology/Oncology, we have created a Section of Humanities whose curriculum for fellows and rotating residents who wish to participate include:
    • Palliative care
    • End-of-life care
    • Place of hope and futility in patient care
    • Spirituality and wellness
    • Work/life balance and burnout
    • Art, music, literature, poetry and drama
    • Medical narrative
    • Mindfulness, meditation and yoga
    • Communication with patients and families
    • Ethical aspects of medical research
    • Breaking bad news
    • Alternative, complementary and integrative medicine
  • Schwartz Center Rounds

    Held at both The Miriam and Rhode Island Hospitals, doctors, nurses and other care providers discuss patient and family issues which are true to the mission of the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center, which is to support and advance compassionate health care in which caregivers, patients, and their families relate to one other in a way that provides hope to the patient, support to caregivers, and sustenance to the healing process. Our house staff are often presenters and participants at these meaningful conferences.
  • Integrated Clinical Arts Program

    At the Warren Albert Medical School of Brown University, there is an Integrated Clinical Arts Program in which medical residents have participated, whose curriculum includes:
    • The Doc’s HeArt: Reflecting on Professional Values through Art
    • Form, Meaning, and the Empathetic Imagination in Poetry and Medicine
    • “Modern” Music, Written and Improvised: Coming to Grips with the Unfamiliar, Unpredictable and Dissonant
    • Clinical Performance: Improvisational Acting
    • Healing Arts: Music and Dance
    • The Five Senses: Creative Writing
    • Physician as Artist: Medical Illustration
    • The Diagnostic Gaze: Figure Sculpture
    • Foreign Bodies: Horsemanship and Medicine
    • From Galleries to Wards: Rhode Island School of Design Museum
  • Master’s degree in Medical Humanities

    A Masters in Medical Humanities from Brown University, supported by a joint Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design program, is planned for the near future. Currently a precursor to this program occurs at the Cogut Center of Brown University whose missions and goals include:
    • Fostering innovative work in the humanities and related disciplines
    • Sustaining and nurture international perspectives at Brown
    • Exploring the history and effects of the rapid growth of technologies of information and visualization
    • Enriching relations between the humanities and the studio and performing arts
    • Investigating the re-emergence of pressing issues of ethics and aesthetics
    • Reinvigorating the concept of critique and the role of critical theory in the humanities
  • Meditation Teaching

    As part of Ambulatory Block, participants receive instruction in Meditative Theory and practice, taught over a four-week period and having life-long benefits.
  • Massage Therapy

    One day a week, medical teams at The Miriam Hospital will receive instruction about the theory and practice of massage therapy. They may offer themselves as willing subjects and receive relaxing and revitalizing massage.
  • Meditation Space

    At both Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital, we have renovated quiet rooms removed from but still close to patient care areas where medical residents can sit quietly and mindfully “recharge their batteries” while listening to the music of their choice and perhaps sip tea.
  • Food as Medicine

    Working with Mary Flynn, PhD, an extraordinary nutritionist and educator, our residents will learn the importance of a healthful diet and the best way to prepare and serve food, so that they and their patients (especially those who are food insecure) can benefit from what they choose to eat, and develop and maintain strength and resilience.

    The following link describes Dr. Mary Flynn’s Food As Medicine initiative:
  • Artful Medicine: Art’s Power to Enrich Patient Care

    An online course offered by Brown edX is taught by Dr. Fred Schiffman, Rhode Island School of Design Museum staff, and two of our medical residents, Ankita Agarwal and Lolita Nidadavolu.

    Goals of this course include:

    • Explore elements of professionalism and humanism, why they are critical to patient care, and how they are threatened by technology that increasingly distances caregivers from patients
    • Analyze art for form, narrative, and technique
    • Practice techniques used by art educators to enhance observation and improve diagnostic skills
    • Examine works of art for the professional behaviors they exemplify
    • Apply techniques to patient care that will help humanize interactions, so caregivers can refocus their attention on patients and families and enhance their understanding of behaviors critical to healing; and
    • Identify with both the caregiver’s and the patient’s points of view.

    There is no charge for our medical residents to take this course. For more information, please visit the following link:

  • Movement and Dance as Medicine

    Through a series of dance exercises, held in the evenings, residents work to improve their non­verbal communication skills and explore how the performing arts can serve as a source of healing for both themselves and their patients. Participants also discuss the tangible benefits of music and dance for patients with Parkinson’s disease and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

    Objectives include opportunities to enhance well-being and awaken mind-body connections that will serve in everyday life, exploring movement as a source of communication and investigate how dance and movement can strengthen non-verbal communication skills and enhance understanding of interpersonal relationships.

    These sessions are led by Julie Strandberg, Professor of Performance Studies at Brown, and Rachel Balaban, the Regional Coordinator of “Dance for Parkinson’s Disease,” who co-­founders of Artists and Scientists as Partners (ASaP) at Brown University, a research and advocacy group dedicated to implementing the arts within a holistic healing approach.