Einstein Healthcare Network creates Center for Humanism

By Nazanin Moghbeli, MD and Rachel Fleishman, MD

People observing art at a museum

Internal medicine residents participating in a Re-FRAME workshop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Einstein Healthcare Network inaugurated a Center for Humanism in the fall of 2020 to cultivate joy in work for all hospital staff, foster empathy and engagement among healthcare workers, and formalize a commitment to compassionate communication between the health system and the population it serves. Einstein Healthcare Network is part of Jefferson Health, a Gold Partners Council member at the Hippocrates level.

This center grew from Dr. Rachel Fleishman’s and Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli’s own engagement with health humanities. Dr. Fleishman is a neonatologist, health humanities educator, and an award-winning writer whose work has been featured in publications such as Time Magazine, NBCNews, JAMA, and The Lancet. Dr. Moghbeli, who is the Medical Director of the Cardiac Care unit at Einstein, is a practicing artist with gallery representation locally and internationally. Both have used their creative practice in their medical teaching, as well as to promote well-being among medical professionals.

The Center for Humanism exposes healthcare workers across the hospital system to the health humanities through literature and storytelling in medicine as well as visual arts. It also aligns with Jefferson University (and Sidney Kimmel Medical College)’s humanities programming.

The Center for Humanism holds quarterly gatherings to exchange ideas, support ongoing projects by colleagues, and learn about colleagues’ creative practices. A staged introduction of seminars, singular hospital-wide events, promotion of individual projects, and individual mentorship and exposure instills a culture of humanistic care.

Dixie James, Einstein Health Network COO, views employee artwork at the 2021 Voices of Einstein Humanities Festival

Other leaders in the center include Dr. Ahashta Johnson, Medical Director of Einstein Medical Center Montgomery Palliative Care, who leads Schwartz Rounds for Einstein staff to foster compassion in medicine; and Dr. Erica Harris, Director of Einstein’s Trauma Intervention Program. Dr. Harris is currently a Gold Humanism Scholar at the Harvard Macy Institute. She employs digital storytelling and the visual and creative arts both as a therapeutic modality and as a channel through which to engender compassion in others for victims of violence, drawing attention to the gun violence epidemic. She ensures that Soul Shots, an organization whose mission is to bring attention to and memorialize the lives lost and tragically altered due to gun violence, displays portraits of gun violence victims annually in the main hospital lobby.

The Center for Humanism integrates and supports a combination of programming targeted towards diverse groups within the health system.

The center’s focus on humanistic graduate medical education includes resident curriculum on narrative medicine led by Dr. Fleishman and Dr. Raymond Cattaneo, storytelling led by Dr. Harris and Dr. Fleishman, and Re-FRAME programming in conjunction with the Philadelphia Art Museum led by Dr. Moghbeli. Dr. Hilary O’Neill in the Department of Psychiatry has her students using visual arts to conceptualize what it means to hear voices.

The center hosts an essay writing competition for all employees each spring, which is led by Elizabeth Kerr, an oncology nurse with an MFA and a passion for narrative medicine. She also works with Dr. Moghbeli on small group narrative medicine programming for nursing.

The entire health system benefits from a community reading program led by Dr. Fleishman, in conjunction with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rohit Gulati. All employees receive a selected essay, short story, or poem each month. They are invited to spend an hour reading the piece closely and discussing its themes and their personal reactions to the writing. This academic year, the readings are stories of illness. The annual humanities event also brings together employees throughout the health system to tell stories or display their own art.

All of these opportunities depend on Einstein Healthcare’s team and their passion for this important work. And the Center for Humanism would not be successful without the support of Einstein Healthcare’s leadership, who amplify and engage with its mission for humanistic healthcare.

For more information on the Center for Humanism, visit the center’s website.