Mastodon First Ever Medical Humanities Chat (#MedHumChat) ~ Pallimed

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

First Ever Medical Humanities Chat (#MedHumChat)

by Christian Sinclair (@ctsinclair)

What started off as a spontaneous tweet by resident Colleen Farrell, MD (@colleenmfarrell) generated a swell of interest from the health care Twitter community and now is being fully realized with the first Medical Humanities chat on Twitter (#MedHumChat) starting tonight January 2, 2019 at 9pm ET.

While not directly focused on our field, we know many hospice and palliative care clinicians have a deep appreciation and connection to the humanities and thought this chat would be of significant interest to the Pallimed online community. We know how hard it is to get Twitter chats started and sustained, and since this chat occupies the same time frame as the old weekly #hpm chats, many of you may be looking for something to fill that gap we left open back in 2017.

Dr. Farrell was kind enough to answer some questions about the chat below.


CTS: What key reasons make the humanities are important in training of clinicians?

CMF: Oh so many reasons! My organic chemistry professor in college (David Richardson at Williams) urged me to take classes to “understand the human condition.” (I ended up no sticking with my chemistry major as planned and majored in women’s and gender studies with a minor in Spanish.) I think so much of what we do in medicine is trying to understand the human condition, but our ways of doing so in medicine are somewhat limited. For millennia, humans have been telling stories and creating art to make sense of human experience and the mysteries of life and death. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking we only need modern medicine to make sense of life and death but so much mystery remains. I find turning to stories and art helps me make sense of the vastness of what my patients are experiencing and my own experience as a doctor. I think art ultimately raises more questions than it answers, and when it comes to suffering and death, what we need, as doctors, is to recognize the unanswerability of these questions and at the same time the vital necessity of embracing them.

I wrote my senior thesis on the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the US, focusing on the experiences and responses of gay men in particular. (I worked with an incredible US historian Sara Dubow.) I read a lot of patient memoirs, studied the AIDS Quilt and its role in collective memory, and examined artistic representations of Kaposi’s sarcoma. My take away from the project was that illness isn’t fundamentally biomedical with social overlays, but rather a fundamentally social and biological phenomenon. The two simply can’t be separated.

CTS: What Twitter chats have you followed or participated in that might have inspired this?

CMF: I’ve been peripherally following the #womeninmedicine (Sundays 9pm ET) chat. That’s what introduced me to twitter chats. And though I’m not an active participant myself, I’ve seen the sense of community it’s created and how empowering it has been for so many women. The internet gets a bad reputation. A place where people go because they can’t face the real world. But the internet can be a force for good. It creates space to say honest, vulnerable things you maybe can’t share in your normal environment. And it allows connections between people who need each other but are often isolated from each other, whether it’s women in medicine or folks with disabilities.

CTS: What has surprised you most about the response to your initial tweets?

CMF: About the chat? I was so surprised people are so interested! I really just tweeted the initial idea as a whim. I really hadn’t thought it through. But then there was so much interest, I thought maybe I’d touched a nerve, identified some kind of gap in people’s experience with healthcare. Maybe. So I’m taking it on as an experiment. We’ll see how it goes!


The two pieces of work that will be discussed at the first #MedHumChat will be “Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work” by Valerie Gribben and “Intensive Care” by Jane O. Wayne.

I strongly encourage the online #hpm community to come out and support this first #MedHumChat January 2nd at 9pm ET. You can find out more by following @MedHumChat and @colleenmfarrell)

Christian Sinclair, MD, FAAHPM is the editor-in-chief of Pallimed, co-founder of #hpm chat, and palliative care physician at the University of Kansas Health System. When he isn't writing for Pallimed, you can probably find him updating one of several social media accounts to help advocate for hospice and palliative care.

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