Department or Program



Research on doctor-patient dialogue and doctor-patient relationships conducted in the 1980s and 1990s revealed that many physicians of the time failed to empathize with their patients and subsequently uncovered the importance of doing so. These findings have led to the introduction of literature courses in medical schools—courses that are designed to teach empathy, under the premise that literature teaches its readers to better identify with others. Furthermore, the field of narrative medicine—scholars of which argue that physicians ought to practice medicine using narrative skills because these skills inspire empathy and reflection—has recently emerged. The philosophy informing narrative medicine has led to numerous reading programs for practicing physicians. Contemporary novelists themselves are becoming more familiar with the importance of literature as a means of teaching physicians empathy. This thesis examines the ways in which the contemporary novelists Ian McEwan and Abraham Verghese convey the importance of empathy for patients among health care professionals and resultantly the importance of health care workers reading literature toward this end. McEwan’s novels Atonement and Saturday and Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone address the limitations and pitfalls of medical culture in relation to patient care and human relationships and reveal the ways in which processing patients’ experiences as narratives can help health care professionals to forge necessary connections. This thesis culminates with a discussion of literature programs designed to develop and improve empathy among medical school students and practicing health care professionals through reading and analysis.

Level of Access

Restricted: Archival Copy [No Access]

First Advisor

Nayder, Lillian

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file