Humanities at the Bedside

Caring for the sick and injured is becoming an increasingly complex endeavor requiring more than clinical and technical expertise. It requires creativity, sensitivity, imagination and comfort with uncertainty.

The arts and medical humanities encourages shifting perspectives and alternative points of view, and provides a lens for critically examining patients, families and ourselves. Sometimes, the ability to ask the right questions is more important than knowing the correct answer, especially when there isn’t one “right” answer.

The sciences don’t address the big, human questions that arise when patients face suffering and death, nor is there a ready formal curriculum to help emergency physicians examine their own values, frailties, and capacity for compassion and tolerance.

“Humanities at the Bedside” was prepared by ACEP’s Medical Humanities section as a gesture to fill those gaps. With the support of an ACEP section grant, we aspired to create a space for issues common to our practice that might keep us up at night, that we mention in passing to our colleagues at sign-out, or keep bottled up inside.


  • Provide a forum for addressing issues common to our practice but often not discussed
  • Demonstrate how the arts and humanities provide critical skills that are necessary in the care of our patients and ourselves.
  • Build awareness of our own critical thinking patterns, inherent biases and assumptions

How to use this site 

It’s easy. Presently this online curriculum consists of four modules: Endings, Boundaries, Humor, Connections. These “umbrella” titles are thematically open to interpretation. 

Each module contains individual sessions designed around a reading or sample of visual media, with a study guide and exercises related to the topic.

This site was designed to bend to the wills of the diverse ACEP membership. Whether you want to march through the modules as presented or randomly dip in and out, if you seek to host one evening discussion or develop a formal elective, we hope you find it useful.

The framing of the sessions and the study guides serve as suggestions only, a beginning, and it’s our hope that individuals and groups come up with questions and ideas that resonate with their own experiences. At the very least, we hope these modules will provide a platform for vital conversations, with the arts serving as a neutral, provocative and fun way to get there.

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