A newsletter from the Division of Medical Humanities at NYU Langone Health
May 21, 2021

How Visual Arts-Based Education Can Promote Clinical Excellence

In this Perspective piece, authors Margaret S. Chisolm, MD, Margot Kelly-Hedrick, MBE, and Scott M.Wright, MD, review how visual arts-based education can promote clinical excellence by enhancing communication and interpersonal skills, professionalism and humanism, diagnostic acumen and clinical reasoning, and passion for clinical medicine.

How Do Plague Stories End?

"In the literature of contagion, when society is finally free of disease, it’s up to humanity to decide how to begin again."  Jill Lepore explores writings about plagues both fictional and real, from Edgar Allan Poe's story “The Masque of the Red Death” to Albert Camus’ novel The Plague to José Saramago’s novel Blindness.

Comics in the Time of a Pan(dem)ic: COVID-19, Graphic Medicine, and Metaphors

Authors Sweetha Saji, Sathyaraj Venkatesan, and Brian Callender examine graphic medicine's representation of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the conceptual metaphors of war, anthropomorphism, and superheroism.

This isn’t just art, but a supercharged act of meaning-making

"Part-memoir, part-prayer, part-wish-fulfillment, part-tally of wordless anguish, this is art that evokes worlds unmoored from art-historical reference...." Shruti Ravindran explores the appeal—and paradox—of psychiatric art.

Highlights from Projects and People in
Humanities and Ethics at NYU Langone Health

Featured Annotation:
Mark Clark on The Arrow Tree: Healing from Long COVID by Phyllis Weliver

“[The] memoir points its readers in the direction of a safe passage to the home of our natural world, where, in finding union with that world, we may experience healing not only from COVID but from habits of the heart that have left us more broken than we know.”

Featured Article: "On Female Genital Cutting: Factors to be Considered When Confronted With a Request to Re-infibulate"

Mona Saleh, MD, a former Rudin Medical Ethics and Humanities Fellow, Phoebe Friesen & Veronica Ades explore the legal and ethical landscapes physicians must navigate when thinking about female genital cutting and evaluating the adult patient who requests re-infibulation.

Above, top: a gathering of the Book Club pre-pandemic
At bottom: a screenshot of some of the attendees at a virtual gathering


Patient Experience Book Club

NYU Langone Health's Patient Experience Book Club, founded by Dr. Katherine Hochman in 2011, brings faculty, staff, trainees, and students together to discuss and reflect upon important issues in patient care through the lens of literature. Over the years, participants have read over fifty books, including The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, to name just a few.
      “Our book sessions get to the meat of what it means to be human. How better to connect with our patients?” says Dr. Hochman. “I am a better physician because of this group, and for this I am so thankful.”
      The Book Club has been profiled in O, The Oprah Magazine (scroll to #4 in the list), which noted, "Every discussion includes typical book-group preoccupations—plot points and twists, characters loved or loathed—but returns, ultimately, to the book's lessons about how best to care for people."
      Participation is open to all members of the NYU community. Please sign up via Eventbrite for the summer reading line-up in 3 separate links (one for each book) below.
(If you are interested, but not at NYU, you are encouraged to start a similar program at your institution, workplace, or among friends!)

The Burns Archive Photo of the Week

Medical Staff of The New York Lunatic Asylum, circa 1885

In the early nineteenth century, care of the indigent insane was usually relegated to almshouses or jails. Blackwell’s Island (renamed Welfare Island in 1921 and then Roosevelt Island in 1972) was purchased by the city in 1828 to establish a central area to house criminals and the physically and/or mentally ill. Shortly thereafter, construction began on a penitentiary and almshouse. In 1834, construction started on the New York City Lunatic Asylum with an innovative octagon design for the entrance hall and administrative offices. By 1839, the asylum was open. As the penitentiary was nearby, asylum physicians used penitentiary inmates as patient aides until the 1850s when new concepts in psychiatric care resulted in the hiring of special orderlies and nurses. This photograph is of the 13 asylum staff physicians in about 1885.
       The hospital became legendary when Charles Dickens published American Notes after visiting asylums in New York and Boston during his historic tour of the United States in 1842. He described the recently opened city asylum in unflattering terms that may well sum up the care of municipal facilities in this era, “I cannot say that I derived much comfort from the inspection of this charity… I saw nothing of that salutary system which had impressed me so favorably elsewhere; and everything had a lounging, listless, madhouse air which was painful. The moping idiot, cowering down with long, disheveled hair; the gibbering maniac, with his hideous laugh and pointing finger; the vacant eye, fierce wild face, the gloomy picking of the hands and lips, with munching of the nails: there they were all, without disguise, in naked ugliness and horror. In the dining-room, a bare, dull, dreary place, with nothing for the eye to rest on but the empty walls, a woman was locked alone. She was bent, they told me on committing suicide. If anything could have strengthened her in her resolution, it would certainly have been the insupportable monotony of such an existence.”
      In 1887, investigative journalist Nellie Bly had herself committed to this asylum and exposed the conditions in Ten Days in a Mad-House. By 1894, the large numbers of ‘indigent insane’ necessitated larger facilities. They were all designated wards of the state and transferred to hospitals on Ward’s Island. The New York City Lunatic Asylum ceased to exist. Its name was changed to Metropolitan Hospital and it functioned as a general city hospital. By the mid-1950s most of the island’s hospitals had been abandoned. When it was renamed Roosevelt Island, it was developed with a tram, subway stop, residential housing and community centers. Most of the dilapidated hospital buildings were demolished. However, one piece of the Lunatic Asylum survives. In 1975, the Octagon was designated a historical landmark and in 2006, after restoration, was repurposed as an entrance for adjacent apartment buildings.

With thanks to The Burns Archive for providing historic medical photographs and commentary for this weekly feature


Quick Links

Calls for Submission & Other Opportunities

Graphic Medicine International Collective Seeks Stories from the Front Lines
The Graphic Medicine International Collective, in collaboration with Penn State College of Medicine, are launching a project to collect and tell stories from the front lines. The project will connect front-line workers with comic artists to tell visual stories about the front-line workers’ experience during the COVID pandemic. They are aiming for a collection of about 20-25 stories to be shared online (and potentially published as an anthology), and are enlisting a diverse group or artists to help tell these stories. It’s meant to be a true collaboration between front-line worker and artist, with the two parties meeting and crafting the visual narrative together. Each story will be about 4-8 pages in length, in the form of a comic.  Funding is available for both frontline storytellers and artists.
       Frontline Workers! Do you have a story you’d like to share about your experience on the front-lines during the COVID-19 pandemic? No prior writing or artistic experience is necessary, only a story to tell, a willingness to share it, and a collaborative spirit.
       Interested? Email Michael and Alex: and Please use the email subject line “Frontline Comic Project.”


Events & Conferences


Virtual: Life and Death in 1918

The Tenement Museum explores what made the flu of 1918 so devastating and how New York City responded to this global crisis.

Conversations about Arts, Humanities and Health

The third in a series of free online events where scholars, health professionals, and the public discuss how arts and humanities can inform healthcare.

On the Pain of Poetry

The fourth and final lecture in the lecture and workshop series "Bio and Psyche: Reading the Symptomatic Body"
Speaker: Travis Chi Wing Lau

Wilson College Humanities Conference: Healthcare in/and Humanities


The Grand Experiment: A Discussion on the Intersections of Science & Poetry


Make your Own Memento Mori: Befriending Death with Art, History and the Imagination

Four-week online course with Morbid Anatomy founder Joanna Ebenstein

Narrative Medicine Rounds with Freestyle Love Supreme Academy


The Story Collider's First Annual Proton Prom

A celebration of science storytelling (virtual)

5th Annual UnLonely Film Festival Launch Event

The 5th Annual UnLonely Film Festival is a collection of 40 short-narrative, animated, and documentary films dealing with the issue of loneliness. They are available to stream at all year long.

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation Annual Gala

Honoring Drs. Anthony Fauci, Wayne Riley, and Eric Topol with the National Humanism in Medicine Medal

Association for Medical Humanities Conference 2021: Making Space

Held at the University of Limerick, 15-17 June 2021

THE LINE Encore Streaming

First performed live on Zoom on July 8, 2020, the world premiere play was viewed more than 55,000 times in 18 countries during its limited streaming run last summer. Crafted from firsthand interviews with New York City medical first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, THE LINE cuts through the media and political noise to reveal the lived experiences of frontline medical workers.
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