New Departments: Emergency Medicine, Medical Humanities and Ethics

Angela M. Mills

Columbia Trustees have approved two new departments for the medical school, bringing the total number of academic departments to 27. 

The Department of Emergency Medicine was approved in 2016 and the department’s inaugural chair, Angela M. Mills, MD, joined VP&S earlier this year from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the J.E. Beaumont Professor of Emergency Medicine at VP&S and chief of emergency medicine services for the Columbia campus of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. 

At Penn, Dr. Mills was professor of emergency medicine and vice chair of clinical operations in the Department of Emergency Medicine. A national leader and expert in emergency medicine, Dr. Mills is a Muhlenberg College graduate who graduated with Alpha Omega Alpha distinction from Temple University School of Medicine. She was chief resident in emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She has focused her research on emergency diagnostic imaging, clinical operations in emergency services, and the evaluation of undifferentiated abdominal pain. She has authored more than 90 scientific publications and received research funding from federal agencies and industry.

The designation of the new clinical department recognizes the evolution of emergency medicine as an academic discipline. Emergency medicine was recognized as the 23rd medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties in 1979. VP&S now joins leading medical schools with academic emergency departments that will further contribute to the academic rigor and research in the field. Until now, adult emergency medicine had been a division within the Department of Medicine while pediatric emergency medicine had been a division within the Department of Pediatrics.

Rita Charon

The other new department, the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics, is chaired by Rita Charon, MD, PhD, a VP&S faculty member since 1982 and currently professor of medicine. Medical humanities and ethics is a broad term that covers several areas of study—philosophy, literary studies, history, religious studies, law, social sciences, and the arts—meant to help students and medical professionals understand and address the complex human experiences inherent in health, illness, and death. 

Dr. Charon will lead the department’s pursuit of three primary goals: education, research, and scholarship in the medical humanities and the arts; ethical, legal, and social research and scholarship in emerging fields of socially complex translational sciences; and research and scholarship on professionalism and social justice in health care. The department will have divisions devoted to ethics, narrative medicine, and professionalism and health care justice. Joining Dr. Charon to direct the divisions will be Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, PhD, a Stanford University anthropologist and bioethicist with an international reputation in the ethics of precision medicine and human genomics, and David Rothman, PhD, a historian and scholar of social medicine whose Center for Medicine as a Profession will join the new department. 

As founder of Columbia’s Program in Narrative Medicine—and creator of the field itself—Dr. Charon has made the teaching of narrative studies at Columbia University and particularly at the medical center a national and international model for how clinicians and trainees in all health care professions can comprehend and heed their patients’ complex experiences of illness. She directs the Program in Narrative Medicine, the Columbia Commons IPE interprofessional education programs, and the Virginia Apgar Teaching Academy for Medical Educators. 

Dr. Charon began her medical career as a general internist after receiving her MD degree from Harvard. She became a literary scholar and completed her PhD in English at Columbia in 1999.

Her research has been supported by the NIH, the NEH, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, and several other private foundations. She has published widely in leading medical and literary journals.