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Caring is not an idea one typically couples with polymathy. The polymath is simply defined as a person who has mastered multiple areas of expertise and integrates them to innovate and problem solve. But what if caring was added as fundamental principle of polymathy? Dr. Pamela Schaff fits this more complete polymathic model, who, while serving as associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine, is also in her spare time working on her Ph.D. in English and creative writing. Her motivation is simple: she believes exposure to the arts and humanities will make her and her students better, more compassionate doctors. “For all its scientific advances,” Schaff explains, “medicine remains very much an art – one that hinges on listening, observing and interpreting narratives.” In other words, she wants to produce caring doctors. At Keck, Professor Schaff directs HEAL (an acronym for Humanities, Ethics, Art, and Law), a program that promotes a new line of inquiry, narrative medicine. Narrative competence will, Schaff believes, enable students to “interpret and act on the stories that their patients share. This ability fosters empathy in medical students,” which will be of great benefit to their future patients and their own personal fulfillment. “We want to make sure our students practice with compassionate brilliance.” Join Professor Schaff in conversation on the importance of bringing caring into the polymathic mix.
Pamela Schaff, Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Medical Education
In college, Dr. Schaff was a pre-med English literature major and, after earning her bachelor’s degree, she was off to Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Training at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles followed, as well as more than a decade in private practice. She initially joined the Keck School in 1986 as a voluntary faculty member in the Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM) program. Schaff now serves as associate dean for curriculum at the Keck School.
Schaff’s solid grounding in literature and humanities steered her to the Humanities, Ethics, Art, and Law (HEAL) program, which she currently directs. The program embraces narrative medicine, a practice that concentrates on narrative competence, enabling students to interpret and act on the stories that their patients share. This ability fosters empathy in medical students, benefiting their future patients and enhancing their own professional satisfaction.
Schaff also has been an integral part of USC Visions and Voices, the university-wide program that brings renowned artists and distinguished speakers to campus. She has received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 1998, 2002 and 2005; KSOM’s Master Teacher Award and the USC-Mellon Mentoring Award in 2008; and USC’s Remarkable Woman Award in 2010.