MED 7018

The Wisdom of Literature in a Time of Plague


Mariah Ipsan
Course Coordinator

Curriculum Focus
Clinical Level
MS Year
Terms Offered


Note: This course has an enrollment minimum of three. We will be in touch with enrolled students prior to the start of the period as to whether this course will run.

 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. 



Site Code

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Required session attendance: There will be an initial Zoom meeting (orientation) on the first Monday of the rotation from 6 to 7 pm. Weekly small group Zoom discussion (assigned group of 4-5) will happen on Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 am. Weekly large group Zoom discussion (entire class) will happen on Friday from 9 to 11 am.

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.

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.

Grading Scale:  P/N

Allow repetition of course: Repetition not allowed

Course equivalency:  Does not apply