2015 - Nicole (Nicki) Piemonte, PhD

Nicole PiemonteTitle of Dissertation:

 Summary of Research:
The narrow, scientific, and largely curative focus of Western medicine and medical education has faced much criticism in the past five decades. More recently, the implicit assumption that objectivity and scientific certitude should form the bedrock of medical practice and physician training has come under question. Fearing that healthcare professionals too often become apathetic technicians, some have suggested that a more explicit “professionalism education” might infuse medicine and medical education with the requisite compassion and empathy needed for patient care. However, for the most part, these critiques have not considered seriously the deeper philosophical, psychological, and ontological reasons why clinicians and medical students might choose to conceive of medicine as an endeavor concerned solely with the biological workings of the body, especially when faced with the existential realities of suffering, meaninglessness, and death. In this dissertation, I will explore how students perceive medicine, including what it means to be a doctor and what responsibilities doctors have toward addressing existential suffering. I will also examine why it is that existential suffering tends to be overlooked in medical practice and education, as well as the ways in which contemporary medical epistemology and pedagogy are not only shaped by but also perpetuate the human tendency to flee from the facticity of death and vulnerability. Contending that the being of the physician is constituted by the other who calls out to her in his suffering, I will argue that the doctor is, indeed, called to attend to suffering that extends beyond the biological. Finally, I will suggest ways in which future physicians might be “brought back to themselves” and oriented toward a more capacious sense of care through a pedagogy that values the cultivation of the self, openness to vulnerability, and a fuller conception of what it means to be a healer.


  • Michele Carter, Ph.D., (CHAIR), Professor, PMCH; Frances C. and Courtney M. Townsend, Sr., M.D. Professor in Medical Ethics, Interim Director and Member, Institute for the Medical Humanities, UTMB
  • Anne Hudson Jones, Ph.D., Professor, PMCH; Interim Director, Medical Humanities Graduate Program; Harris L. Kempner Chair in the Humanities in Medicine; Member, Institute for the Medical Humanities, UTMB
  • Steven Lieberman, M.D., Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology; Senior Dean for Administration, Dean of Medicine, UTMB
  • Ronald Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Harris Kempner Distinguished Professor, Institute for the Medical Humanities, UTMB
  • Ramsey Eric Ramsey, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Barrett-The Honors College, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
  • Kevin Aho, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Communication and Philosophy, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Meyers, Florida

Nicki joined our program in fall 2011.  She previously received a BA in English with a minor in communication studies from Arizona State University in 2008 before earning an MA in interpersonal communication in 2010. Her previous research focused on young adults who serve as primary caregivers for their dying parents, and she also assisted in a collaborative project with the Mayo Clinic that explored the ways in which mothers and daughters relationally cope with breast cancer diagnoses. Here at the Institute for the Medical Humanities, Nicki is pursuing her interests in medical ethics, end-of-life issues, literature and medicine, and the role of the humanities in pre-medical and medical education.

2012 - William Bennett Bean Scholarship in the Medical Humanities 
2012 - Zelda Zinn Casper Endowed Scholarship 
2013 - The John D. and Mary Ann Stobo Award

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