The Humanities Path of Excellence encourages students to connect medicine to the humanities, and helps them develop empathy, awareness of social context, and comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty — human capacities crucial to patient care
On a July evening, eight members of the U-M Medical School class of 2022, soon to experience their first shifts in hospitals and clinics, listened and learned.
They gathered at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Tower on the University of Michigan’s North Campus for a program, “Social Justice in Arts & Healing: The Art of Listening,” with composer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, visiting carillonist and carillon instructor, sponsored by the Medical School’s Medical Humanities Path of Excellence. “Carillon music in a public space meets social justice meets medical student education,” says Mary Blazek, M.D., clinical associate professor of psychiatry and Humanities Path director, who attended the event, along with several of the Path’s core faculty, including Joel D. Howell, M.D., Ph.D., the Elizabeth Farrand Collegiate Professor of the History of Medicine and professor of internal medicine. Howell, himself a musician, introduced Ruiter-Feenstra.
The Humanities Path of Excellence encourages students to connect medicine to the humanities, and helps them develop empathy, awareness of social context, and comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty — human capacities crucial to patient care. Ruiter-Feenstra alluded to such capacities in describing her process and the pieces, all her own compositions, that she was about to play on the Robert and Ann Lurie Carillon: “Our Time: Me Too,” dedicated to survivors of abuse at Michigan State University and throughout the world; and “Belonging: A Carillon Call to Care for All,” whose four movements lift up the voices and stories of Muslim/Arab, African American, Jewish, and Latinx immigrant dedicatees who have endured prejudice, marginalization, and oppression.
The composer asked students to imagine diverse patient outcomes wherein doctors listen fully, compassionately, and openly; or only partially, distractedly, or with preconceived ideas. Ruiter-Feenstra then invited the students to question and critique her own process, which, by its nature, runs the risk of appropriating the trauma of oppressed persons.
As the sun set, it was time to hear — and see — Ruiter-Feenstra play.