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Creighton Announces new Deming Endowed Chair in Medical Humanities

Read more about how the medical humanities have shaped Deming’s own life and career.

Richard DemingAn Iowa oncologist and Creighton alumnus renowned for compassionate care has made a significant gift to the newly formed Department of Medical Humanities in Creighton’s School of Medicine.

The Richard L. Deming, MD, Endowed Chair in Medical Humanities will support faculty as they form well-rounded and empathetic physicians with an education rooted in the liberal arts and a mission driven by Jesuit values. Those who hold endowed positions influence generations of students — in clinics, classrooms and beyond. A search for the inaugural chairholder is under way.

Deming, MD’80, medical director of the Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines, said the mission of the endowed chair aligns with his own life’s work and his belief that the humanities were essential to his formation as a physician.

“As I’ve had the opportunity to interact with thousands of cancer patients, I’ve learned the therapeutic value of just being present with them,” Deming said. “Genuine caring and authentic compassion have a tremendous healing power. And much of that power comes from knowing the value of the humanities. What I gained through my classes on spirituality, theology, philosophy, psychology and literature has had a huge influence on my success as a doctor.”

Because being a doctor, he said, “is about more than the science; it’s a human endeavor, and there is so much of humanity that we can’t define by formulas.”

Deming’s relationships with his patients go far beyond the clinic. In 2011, he founded Above + Beyond Cancer, a group that seeks to improve the lives of cancer patients and survivors. Through Above + Beyond, Deming has led his patients on climbs to the base camp of Mount Everest and the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Deming said the natural beauty of the climbs touches the hearts, minds and souls of the survivors.

Whether he’s on a mountain or in an exam room, Deming seeks these life-changing experiences with his patients.

“Dr. Deming embodies the Creighton value of cura personalis, of not just treating the illness but caring for the individual person much more holistically,” said Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD. “His service to his patients has been extraordinary and compassionate. This gift to the University is so transformative.”

The School of Medicine’s Medical Humanities Department will reflect Creighton’s commitment to the liberal arts as the foundation of its nine schools and colleges. In focusing on disciplines outside of medicine, the department will emphasize the areas of healing that go beyond the physiological.

“We see this as one of the real challenges in 21st century health care going forward,” said Kevin T. FitzGerald, SJ, PhD, PhD, the department’s inaugural chair. “We are going to need a much richer and more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to be ‘well’ in order to deliver the kind of care we need to.”

The central idea is this, he said: Through the sciences, we heal bodies; through the humanities, we connect hearts.

Medical humanities course offerings will cover several areas. Electives will include: Death, Health and Dickens; Childbirth and Social Justice; Creative Writing Workshop for Future Physicians; and Physician’s Vocation Program Year 1: Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality in Medicine.

The department’s faculty, including the soon-to-be-named endowed faculty chair, will collaborate with colleagues across campus, drawing from various disciplines to ensure that Creighton’s future physicians can both care for and form meaningful relationships with their patients.

“I view us as being in the business of character formation for outstanding physicians,” said School of Medicine Dean Robert “Bo” Dunlay, MD’81. “Dr. Deming’s gift and our development of the medical humanities are a very important part of that character development that makes a Creighton physician unique.”

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