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WMU conference to explore human side of medical issues

by Mark Schwerin

Sept. 26, 2011 | WMU News

KALAMAZOO--The human element of health and medicine will come into sharper focus during the first Medical Humanities Conference Thursday and Friday, Sept. 29-30, at Western Michigan University.

The conference will explore a range of themes within the medical humanities with a primary focus on why medical humanities matter, whether in practice or in the training of health care professionals.

The highly interdisciplinary conference is expected to draw participants from a wide variety of backgrounds--both academic and medical--to the WMU Fetzer Center. The conference begins at 8 a.m. both days and culminates with dinner at 7 p.m. on Friday.

"We're excited about the conference because it gives WMU an opportunity to develop a national presence in the medical humanities, both by bringing in presenters from around the country and by being able to feature our own faculty," says Dr. Fritz Allhoff, WMU associate professor of philosophy and conference co-organizer. "The new WMU School of Medicine is catalyzing such great energy on campus, and the medical humanities have been a big beneficiary in this regard."

Both days are chock full of sessions addressing key human issues in health and medicine, with a total of eight concurrent sessions allowing participants to tailor subject matter to suit their individual interest. Concurrent sessions Thursday morning, for instance, will let participants choose from the likes of "Health Care in German Prison Camps during World War I," "The Surgical History of Mitral Valve Repair and Replacement," "Physician as Writer: Narrative Medicine at Work," "Bad Apples: Autoethnographies of Disability" and "Vitalism, Humanism and Medicine."

Friday's concurrent sessions will look at such topics as "Medical Humanities and the End of Life," "Geography and Attitudes toward Death," including physician assisted suicide, and "Medical Humanities across Cultures."

The concurrent offerings are interspersed with plenary sessions both days that will tackle such diverse issues as "Plague, Public Physicians and Medical Surveillance in Late Medieval Milan," "Health and Communication: A Crucial Partnership," "Cultural Issues in Care of Japanese Patients: Implications for Medical Humanities," "Seeing Health Care through the Visual Arts" and "Music: Ubiquitous and Idiosyncratic, but is it Therapeutic?"

Sessions are led by faculty and medical experts from the likes of the University of Pittsburgh, Michigan State, the University of Michigan, Oregon State University, the University of Texas the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska and Johns Hopkins, as well as WMU faculty.

The conference's keynote address is at 5:45 p.m. Thursday featuring Dr. Matthew Wynia, clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and director of the American Medical Association's Institute of Ethics. He will talk about " Knowledge, Wisdom and Purpose: The Meaning and Teaching of Professionalism in Medicine."

Cost of the conference is $45 for students, $95 for non-students and $145 for physicians.

For information or to register, go to:

WMU's new School of Medicine is a partnership involving the University and Kalamazoo's two teaching hospitals, Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare. It has been in planning for three years, and fundraising, accreditation work and curriculum development for the school are well under way. Expected to welcome its first class in fall 2014, the school is a privately funded initiative housed at WMU.