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Donor pledges $1 million for endowed chair in Medical Humanities

A medical humanities student's project on Ghana
Carter English, UC Irvine Medical Student
Ferry boats in Ghana, published in the Spring 2013 edition of Plexus

Funding to foster compassion and empathy in medical students, residents and faculty

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Department of Family Medicine is well on its way to establishing an endowed chair in medical humanities in honor of Johanna Shapiro, PhD.

The donor has offered to give $1 million in matching funds once the department raises $1 million to complete the funding required for an endowed chair.

For the last 15 years, Dr. Shapiro has directed the Program in Medical Humanities and the Arts (PMHA), developing curriculum, teaching, conducting research and supervising medical student humanities research. The program has garnered both national and international recognition.

The purpose of the program is to help foster compassion and empathy in medical students, residents, and faculty. Literature and the arts are used to help them gain a deeper understanding of patients’ experiences of illness. As a result of the medical humanities programming, their perspectives change and broaden, helping them develop as empathetic healers.

Examples of UC Irvine's medical humanities program in action include:

  • An evening at the Irvine Museum, where students reflected on what they could discover by looking at portraits from their patients' perspectives.
  • An afternoon at the Bowers Museum for "Art of Doctoring" students to discuss cultural and generational challenges in patient care and how art impacts the students' understanding of what it means to be a physician.
  • Medical Readers Theater, which uses skits to bring together medical students and residents of a retirement community to reflect on issues related to aging, now involves high school students in writing scripts for the sessions.
  • Plexus, the Journal of the Program in Medical Humanities, continues to publish original stories, poems and visual arts created by students, faculty and staff of UC Irvine.

To make a donation, visit

You can also call Linda Haghi, director of Community Relations at 714.456.7396 or email for more information.