Humanities and Health Care


Since 2012, AHF has partnered with Veterans Administration centers in Alabama to offer the Humanities and Health Care program.

This reading and discussion program benefits both medical personnel and their patients. Humanities-based programs for health care workers have proven to have a significant effect on the way participants understand their work and their relationships with patients and with each other. The ultimate beneficiaries of the program are veterans as participants gain enhanced understanding and empathy for their patients.

The program is offered at the following VA centers:

The program encourages participants to connect the worlds of health care and life experiences, giving them the opportunity to reflect on their professional roles and their relationships with colleagues and care recipients through short stories, poetry, fiction and personal narratives in a small-group setting where they can share their reflections and experiences with colleagues.

Health care professionals can no longer rely on what they know from their own lives to understand their patients, who may be of different religious, socio-economic or cultural backgrounds. Literature, however, offers vicarious experiences of worlds outside that of the reader, supplying full-bodied accounts of illness, death and human relationships in all places and among all peoples. This is why the field of medical humanities is growing nationally.

Alan Brown, Ph.D., a program facilitator, notes, “While stress is a fact of life for doctors and nurses in all hospitals, medical personnel in VA centers face even more challenges. VA facilities are often underfunded and understaffed. They are also seeing a marked increase in patients, resulting from aging baby-boomers, and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terror. Also, the patient population is increasingly diverse, in terms of ethnicity, age, education level and religious background. The physical strain of trying to meet the needs of these patients is compounded by an extremely large number of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the fact that so many veterans never seem to get well, especially those suffering from chronic pain and substance abuse. Frustration and despair are facts of life for injured veterans and those caring for them.”

This program is based on the Maine Humanities Council’s national award-winning, scholar-led humanities program for health care professionals, Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care, which reaches hundreds of providers, staff members, administrators and policy makers in facilities across the country, affecting the care of thousands. 

This program is made possible by generous support from The Hill Crest Foundation, The Reese Phifer, Jr., Foundation, and The Trinka Davis Foundation. For more information about Literature and Health Care, contact Thomas Bryant at (205) 558-3997 or