The Maine Humanities Council, creator of a national award-winning hospital-based book discussion program, has outlined on its website the benefits that come from engaging diverse groups of health care professionals in conversation about literary works on themes relevant to the work of health care providers, as well as to the human experiences of patients and their families (http://www.mainehumanities.org/programs/litandmed/index.html). These include enhanced communications between health care professionals, patients and families, deepened understanding of the ways that institutional hierarchies can impede communication, greater awareness of how cultural and socio-economic perspectives and family history affect the health care experiences of patients, and increased vocational satisfaction.
The American Library Association publishes a guide, One Book One Community: Planning Your Community-Wide Read (http://publicprograms.ala.org/orc/pdfs/onebookguide.pdf) that has also been consulted in the development of this program on the UT Health Science Center campus. Community reading programs have been organized by small towns and large cities, and on university campuses across the country The benefits of community reading programs listed in the ALA planning guide—cross-cultural understanding, improved communication, a deepened sense of community– are similar to those noted for the Maine Humanities Council’s Literature and Medicine program.
In 2008 the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics and the Briscoe Library of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio planned our first One Community/One Book project. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, a book by Tracy Kidder about the life and work of humanitarian physician, Paul Farmer, was selected. A series of book discussions were held during August and September, 2008, culminating in a visit to campus and a lecture by both Tracy Kidder, the author of the book, and Dr. Paul Farmer, the subject of the book. During the lecture by Dr. Farmer and Tracy Kidder the UT Health Science Center auditorium, which seats 634, was filled to standing room only capacity with faculty, students, staff, and members of the San Antonio community. Total attendance may have been double that when video-teleconference participation at remote locations in Harlingen and Laredo are included.
A community read in 2009 focused on Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, by Pauline Chen, MD. In 2010 the One Community One Book selection was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Participation in book discussions have grown steadily, with more than 270 individuals taking part in book discussion events in 2010. Author presentations by Pauline Chen and Rebecca Skloot were well-attended by members of the public as well as campus affiliates.
Campus and community partnerships have been critical to the success of all of the One Community One Book programs on the campus of the UT Health Science Center. In the past, partners have included– in addition to the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics and the Academic Center for Excellence in Teaching– the University Transplant Center and local offices of the National Kidney Foundation; and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. In 2012 we are pleased that the San Antonio Public Library, the Voelcker Biosciences Teachers Academy, and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy have worked with us to provide speaking venues for Elva Trevino Hart, who will be in San Antonio from February 22 through February 25.
One Community One Book has also been supported by generous donations from individual faculty members. Humanities Texas, the local affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has been a partner in three One Community One Book events, in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
This program was made possible in part with a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.