INMD 7018

The Wisdom of Literature in a Time of Plague


Dr. Tod Worner
Course Director

Curriculum focus: 
Clinical level: 
MS year: 
Terms offered: 


    *For the 2021-22 academic year, this course will be run as MED 7018. Please refer to the course directory for more information.*

    Catalog Description:  

    For as long as we have roamed the earth, plagues have bedeviled humanity. And their consequences have been nearly immeasurable.  

    From emotional upheaval to economic hardship, from unwanted illness to untimely death, infections have shattered and molded what it means to be human. Plagues have also shaped our literature. While it is essential that we consult the latest research in infection control and treatment, we are wise to read classic and modern literature for the profound insight it has to offer. From Camus’ The Plague to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, from Shakespeare’s King Lear to Dante’s Divine Comedy, this rotation offers timeless readings from classic and modern literature. Not only will we study and discuss literary reflections on plagues, but more importantly we will broadly consider our reaction to times of great trial. As physicians and human beings, what is our duty (or vocation) in deeply uncertain times? How are we to comprehend and cope with suffering? Where will we find the profound and subtle graces amidst public and personal calamity? In the end, what does great literature have to teach us? For medical students and clinicians navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, to answer these questions is to better prepare ourselves to serve our patients while sustaining ourselves with the deeper reasons behind our work. 

    Sites: OL: Online learning

    Required session attendance:

    Typical weekly schedule/Delivery Mode: 

    Over four weeks, readings in great literature (books, essays, and excerpts) will be assigned weekly. Readings should be read and students should be prepared to discuss them in advance of each small group discussion. Weekly small group Zoom discussion (assigned group of 4-5) will happen on Thursdays from ---- to -----. Weekly large group Zoom discussion (entire class) will happen on Friday from ---- to ----.  Friday’s class will more deeply consider the course material and  be one part didactic and another, conversational. 

    Week One - The Literature of Plagues
    Week Two - On Duty
    Week Three - On Suffering
    Week Four - On Grace

    Direct patient care:  No

    Consent Requirement: Open to student scheduling

    Course Objectives:  By the end of this course students will be able to:

    • Better articulate their calling as physicians and human beings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Describe the value of classic literature with respect to epidemics as well as personal and public calamity.
    • Develop skills to grapple with deeper philosophical questions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Form deeper community with one another on matters of pressing personal and professional importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Graded Components:

    • Participation in virtual discussions
    • Completion of required essay

    Grading Scale:  P/N


    Allow repetition of course: Repetition not allowed

    Limited to Student Type:  No

    Course equivalency:  N/A

    Related curricular experience:

    Secure Exam:

    Course evaluation:  MedHub