By Bonnie Meibers, Senior Staff Writer

Miami’s 2016-17 Altman Lecture series, sponsored by the Humanities Center, kicked off Thursday evening with John McGowan as its first speaker.

McGowan, professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discussed the medical humanities with students, faculty and community members in the Dolibois Room in Shriver Center.

Conversations and collaborations are the idea behind the Altman Fellows Program, which produces the Altman Lecture Series. Named for John W. Altman, a graduate of Miami University who was the first person to be inducted into the Miami University Academy of Entrepreneurs, the recurring lecture series is the Humanities Center’s signature program.

The medical humanities, he said, are essentially a marriage of the “hard” sciences that come with medical education and an understanding of “soft” science. Balancing the two, McGowan said, can help medical students foster better bedside manners and improve empathy.

He also said that looking at complex medical issues through a holistic humanist lens could help doctors make sense of some ethical decisions they frequently face.

“Medicine definitely needs a softer side to it,” Ellie Sidler, a junior biology major who attended the lecture, said. “One of the biggest apprehensions that I have going into medical school is how I am going to feel as a doctor.”

To that end, McGowan said that many medical schools have started to recognize the importance of the medical humanities by adding literature and sociology sections to their entrance exams.

“The medical humanities depend on conversations and collaborations across disciplines,” McGowan said.

Other topics discussed throughout this year’s lecture series will deal with how the humanities, like philosophy, literature and art, impact health. Various speakers in the lecture series will answer questions like, “What does it mean to live and die well?” said Tim Melley, director of the Humanities Center.

As director of the Humanities Center, Melley plays a large role in the planning of the lecture series and helps to ensure the events run smoothly. Those efforts began last winter during brainstorming sessions to identify potential speakers. Faculty members were also invited to submit theme ideas in teams of two.

The Humanities Center staff requires that the faculty members submitting ideas jointly be from different departments of study, which, Melley said, ensures the interdisciplinary nature of the proposals. This year’s theme came from Cynthia Klestinec, associate professor of English, and Kimberly Hamlin, associate professor of American Studies and History.

“I think [the Altman Lecture Series] sets Miami apart [from other universities],” Klestinec said.

For Melley, the Lecture Series represents an opportunity to examine societal issues as a community.

“The Altman program represents the pinnacle of the college experience,” Melley said. “It asks the entire community to come together to wrestle with complex, meaningful problems.”

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