As a medical student, I like telling people that I was a Literature major at MIT: we’re pretty rare creatures. I started with Lit at MIT because I was curious about it, and fancied myself to be multidisciplinary. I continued with Lit because it was fun and interesting and I got to be in classes with talented, charismatic professors. Then, I started going to Monday Teas, where Lit at MIT comes together and you realize that professors care about you and about each other. Suddenly, Mondays were something to look forward to. I was too busy enjoying my classes to realize that they were profoundly useful to me personally, and to my career.
As much as medicine at UCSF tries to be evidence-based, it is still practiced by and for people who are people, not evidence. And most of these people are neither grad students, post-docs, nor professors of engineering: they want to know how to fit the data into their life and practice, not how to process it. To this end, the “Bible” class was a revelation because it was the first time that I had thought about religion as an active part of our language and culture, as something that carries great weight in decision-making, medical and otherwise. The “Ethics” seminar acquainted me with some classic dilemmas and arguments that I encountered again in an elective on laws concerning involuntary treatment of psychiatric patients. My favorite classes, however, were “Modernism” and “Beauty”, because they introduced me to some new ways to think about the world. Patients have some crazy stories to tell, and in a very direct sense, it’s nice to have experienced different narrative styles to be able to navigate the conversation. From a personal perspective, it’s also nice to have an abstract way of weaving them together into my own experience. Bio at MIT prepared me very well for learning medicine, but Lit at MIT prepared me for learning to practice it.