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Samuel Shem

Clinical Professor of Medicine in Medical Humanities at NYU Medical School; Medical Expert; Psychiatrist; Acclaimed Novelist; Playwright; Essayist; and Activist

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Samuel Shem, Professor of Medicine in Medical Humanities at NYU Medical School, is a novelist, playwright, and activist. His first novel The House of God was called by The Lancet “one of the two most important American medical novels of the 20th century,” and was chosen by Publishers Weekly as #2 on its list of “The 10 Best Satires of All Time” (#1 Don Quixote, #3 Catch-22). His novel on psychiatric training, Mount Misery, was called “another classic—biting, humorous, superb.” The Spirit of the Place won two American “Best Literary Novel of the Year” Awards, and At the Heart of the Universe was described by Abraham Verghese as “Poignant and tender, a novel about love, parenting, and the nature of home—a lovely transformative story.”

Shem and Janet Surrey’s award-winning play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, ran Off Broadway for a year. Graduating from Harvard and Harvard Medical School, Shem was a Rhodes Scholar with a D.Phil. in Physiology at Oxford, on the Harvard Medical faculty for decades.  Honored as a Visiting Artist/Scholar at The American Academy in Rome, he is an in-demand speaker around the world, and has given over sixty commencement speeches on “How to Stay Human in Medicine.”

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How to Stay Human in Medicine

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Samuel Shem, Professor of Medicine in Medical Humanities at NYU Medical School, is a novelist, playwright, and activist. His first novel, The House of God, was called “one of the two most important American medical novels of the 20th century” by The Lancet and was chosen by Publishers Weekly as #2 on its list of “The 10 Best Satires of All Time” (#1 Don Quixote, #3 Catch-22).

Shem is also a well-known, inspirational speaker on the importance of human as the centrality of good connection in life and work. He has spoken all over the world—including commencement speeches at more than 50 medical schools—using his writing and experience in medicine to inspire and instruct his audience in “Staying Human in Health Care and Life.”

His novels, The House of God, Fine and Mount Misery have sold over 3 million copies and are fictional but close-to-real first-hand descriptions of the training of American doctors. He is noted all over the world by health care professionals for The House of God and has been referred to as “the comic genius and the holy terror of medicine,” “Rabelaisian,” and “the raucous and insightful physician of the soul.”

His fourth novel and sequel to House of God, Man’s 4th Best Hospital, was released in November 2019. The mesmerizing, heartbreaking, and hilarious explores how the health-care industry, and especially doctors, have evolved over the past thirty years.

Shem's play Bill W. and Dr. Bob had an Off Broadway run at New World Stage in New York City. It ran for 132 performances and closed on June 10, 2007. The New York Times called it "An insightful new play." He has published a noted essay, “Fiction as Resistance” (Annals of Internal Medicine 2002). Shem has been honored as one of Boston Public Library’s “Literary Lights,” as one of “Boston’s Best Authors,” and as a speaker at the Hemingway Centennial Celebration at the JFK Library. He has received the Vanderbilt University Medal of Merit.

Currently, Shem is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, division of addictions. Shem was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford in 1966. He is a founding Venture Partner and Human Resources manager in one of the largest biotechnology venture capital companies in the world, MPM Capital, where he has worked for ten years

Speech Topics

Known as the comic genius and conscience of medicine, Dr. Shem uses entertaining vignettes and stories from his comic novels The House of God and its sequel Mount Misery to guide his audience through facing our sufferings, large and small, in our daily lives, and learning to move through this with humor, and compassion for yourself and others. At the heart of this is a talk about the human spirit: in the face of suffering, the risk of isolation and the healing power of mutual connection?of walking through suffering with caring others, and helping others to learn to care. He will use examples from his most recent, nationally award-winning novel, The Spirit of the Place in addition to his Off Broadway award-winning hit play, Bill W. and Dr. Bob. He and his wife wrote the play about the relationship between the two men that led to the founding of Alcoholics anonymous in Akron Ohio in 1935?a health-care model of the healing power of good connection.

In the age of Obamacare, its policy implications rolling out over the next few years, the state of the U.S. health care system is in flux. Based on the wide appeal of his novel The House of God and its impact on health care policy, Dr. Shem has been called upon to speak about the broken U.S. healthcare system. Shem provides innovative recommendations on how to create a just, fiscally-sound healthcare policy. His decades of experience in the trenches as a practicing physician from emergency rooms to psychiatry and his collaboration with health care workers all over the world from China through Europe and at almost every medical school in America, he has become an expert, with humor and insight, in describing the inhumanities, and the solutions.

With ten years as a original Venture Partner/Human Resource manager at one of the largest and innovative biotech venture capital companies, MPM Capital, Dr. Shem will describe The Connection Model. Shem describes how to deal with the core issue of creating mutuality in relationships?from couples to large corporate systems. The model, developed by Shem and his wife Dr. Janet Surrey, derived from their more ten years of research and published studies on conducting gender dialogues all over the world, and resulted in a published nonfiction book, We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men, and a complete curriculum, Creating Connection in the Classroom. Shem shares two key principles of the model and tips for making a better workplace environment and a better life.

With humor, insight and wisdom gathered in four decades as a practicing physician and author, Shem takes his audience on a journey through his writing, his doctoring, and life. Using his first, classic medical novel, The House of God and his other award-winning novels, plays and nonfiction, he will discuss the inhumanities we all face in our work and our professions, and lay out practical steps to transform our suffering to awareness, and humane actions to help ourselves and others. The core theme is the risk of isolation, and the healing power of good connection. In essence, how to live in a way that makes sure that we don’t spread more suffering around (from The Spirit of the Place).

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