Course: SLA 368 | HUM 368 | COM 348
Instructor: Elena Fratto
S 2018

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

Literature and Medicine is a fantastic course for anyone passionate about medicine and reading: there are quite a few  pre-med students in the course. However, do not let this scare you. The literature can be  quite intimidating certain weeks from the sheer volume, but is a great way to integrate reading back into your life. Readings will trace themes in medicine, such as neurodiversity, caregiving, patient versus doctor perspectives, and epidemics, through literary devices, like metaphors, point-of-view, unreliable narrator, and authorial tone. The course will remind students, many of which will follow medical professions, that understanding the patient narrative and retaining empathy and compassion through their medical training will enhance their own experience, as well as that of their patients and families.

The following information is from the Spring 2018 Syllabus, and has been closely followed.

Course goals
  • To highlight the common features of literature and medicine and bridge the gap between these disciplines.
  • To acquaint you with remarkable literary texts from all over the world.
  • To help you recognize the rhetorical and stylistic devices that medical narratives employ.
  • To transform the way in which you look at common human experiences such as illness and healing.
Course Requirements
  1. Two short essays of 4-5 pages (15% of final grade each).
  2. One midterm exam (25% of final grade).
  3. One final long essay of 8-10 pages (25%).
  4. Participation (20%); this grade is based on your performance in precepts—your attendance, attentiveness, and contributions. You will need to read the required texts in advance of the meetings, draw interesting insights and questions from them, and come to class ready to discuss them.
Course Policies
  1. Attendance: the success of this course depends on your engagement, your contribution to discussion, and our developing a productive intellectual community. It is essential that you attend all lectures and precepts. One absence will be allowed without penalty; each subsequent absence will lower your participation grade, unless a medical note is presented.
  2. Laptops are strongly discouraged, so please bring printed copies of texts or extensive notes to lectures and precepts. E-readers are allowed.
  3. Late work will be marked down by one step (e.g., B+ to B) each day, unless a medical note is presented.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

Professor Fratto teaches the course through lecturing with a powerpoint that includes quotes, images, and representations of other important works that she feels are relevant to the lecture. She reads a scripted lecture. Each week is themed, but it is important to note the similarities across the discussion of these texts, whether it be stated explicitly or not. It can be helpful to share precept discussion with students from other precepts to expand upon the connections between these texts for your essay topics.

Additionally, Professor Fratto discourages the use of computers during class, so notetaking should be done by writing. Note important passages in the literature from her lecture by jotting down page numbers rather than marking it on your copy. Symbols and metaphors will be emphasized and will show up on the midterm exam. You should go to lecture regardless if you have had time to do the readings: your attendance to lecture is being recorded by your preceptor.

Learning For and From Assignments


There is a lot of reading for this course! The literature from this class is easy to digest, such as the novels, memoirs, and NYT articles. Fast readers could be at an advantage in terms of saving time, since it is important to grasp significant passages that may be more memorable. While reading, it is helpful to note down passages or page numbers, along with the thematic relevance to the text or the "theme of the week". If you are crunched for time, reading the larger texts in time for precept will be the most helpful for discussion.


Essays will be graded by your preceptor: every preceptor has their own specialty and preference when it comes to essay topics, so it may be helpful to thoroughly analyze your approach to essays. The analysis for Literature and Medicine is different than that of a writing seminar. It heavily emphasizes close reading beyond the context and material found in the quote. Diction, verb tense, punctuation, and figurative language are all expected to be thoroughly analyzed and connected to your overarching theme. It is not absolutely necessary have a compelling argument because the course observes complicated themes and issues that may not have clear conclusions.


The midterm consists of five short answers and one essay. The midterm spans fifty minutes during class. For the short answer, ten themes or symbols from the readings will be given: students will be expected to choose five and state the context and importance of them. For the essay, three quotes will be provided. The students will choose one and use close reading to analyze the importance of the quote.

Precept Participation

Precept participation is 20 percent of the total grade for the course. Preceptors will meet up to discuss where they want to lead conversation about the texts. However, it is advisable to check with students in other precepts about the discussion material because each preceptor still has his/her own style. Knowing material from other precepts will help with writing essays if a student is afraid of writing something "unoriginal" (if everyone writes about the same thing from precept). However, it is completely possible to write a unique essay regardless. Participating in precept is quite easy because conversation changes flexibly, and preceptors often ask open ended questions. Remember to also connect themes from past weeks into your analysis for more insight!

External Resources

Since the assignments from this course are essays, the Writing Center could be helpful! The following link is useful for catching important themes and symbols in the literature:

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Precepts and class are graded for participation, and readings could be considered very heavy for students with a typically STEM-filled courseload. It is possible not to complete readings, but you will still need to have important passages and a good understanding of the plot, theme, motifs, and style. Please make time for the class, as it will be extremely rewarding if you do so! There are many books you need to purchase for this class, so plan accordingly. You can read the books earlier during breaks (be sure to note passages you find important for the essay and precept discussion), buy used versions online, or buy a set with a friend to share. It is nearly impossible to check out all of the books at the library when you need them, so buying them may alleviate daily trips to the library if they are on 24-hour reserve.
Literature and Medicine

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