SoM Elective Courses

classroom in the Murphy building

Medical Student Electives

First and Second Year Electives
Affordable Care Act

This elective provides students opportunities to learn about nuances of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Emphasis will be on the three pillars of ACA, including individual mandate, employer mandate and insurance companies.

Art of Observation
David Doukas, MD

This course is designed for first and second year students who are interested in developing their skills in observation, description, and interpretation. Through an educational collaboration between Tulane and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), students will use works of art in tandem with images of actual patients to enhance their observational skills (FYI, all NOMA admission is free). Students will work with NOMA staff and Tulane faculty. No prior knowledge of art is required. The curriculum consists of three hours per week of activities designed to improve observational skills using art. Students will begin the course by looking at painted portraits under the tutelage of NOMA art educators. Weeks two to four of the course will combine brief lectures on the art of observation with interactive observation exercises held in front of actual works of art. These exercises will concentrate on descriptive and concise communication. Students will continue these exercises during the remainder of the course. During this time, the NOMA instructors will expand upon these basic concepts with additional paintings/portraits. Students will continue their fine art training and use their observational methods to gain clues from actual standardized patient photos under the guidance of the course director. Throughout the course, students will receive constructive criticism and feedback on their progress. They will also share with each other their observations, thereby learning observation through the perspective of others. In addition, through the practice of describing the painting, better communication is elicited from the viewer and confirmed by the audience interpreting those same ideas. In the final week of the course, students will engage in a team-based observation exercise using patient photos and fine art to assess their interval progress. At the end of this course the students will appreciate the importance and value of simple observation as a tool for physical diagnosis. They will also gain confidence in their patient presentations with improved ability to succinctly and precisely describe their findings.

Bioethics and Film
Valerie Holliday, PhD

This course is designed to explore the edges of medicine, where the most complicated ethical issues live. Because of the dramatic nature of narrative cinema, the course uses films to investigate liminal cases of research, wellness, illness, dying, and the oppressive quality of history. The course will ask students to think seriously about how we define sickness and disease and the intimate relationship of narrative and medicine.

Bioethics Seminar
Tzofit Ofenfenden, PhD
In the discussion-based elective, we will explore the most contentious debates in Bioethics, including dilemmas such as Abortion, Euthanasia, Physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, intersectionality, and Gender-Affirming healthcare.


Disparities in Health Care
Ashley Wennerstrom, PhD, MPH

The United States is the most diverse country in the world. The US is made up of citizens from all types of backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and beliefs. Cultural competence in health care is a course that gives students the opportunity to learn about cultural biases, social determinants of health, and adapt clinical and communication skills to adequately treat a diverse patient population. Furthermore, this course will help prepare students for USMLE Step II CS, a mandatory nationwide exam in which students must interact with patients of different races and ethnicities. This is an opportunity for students to gain worthy clinical and communication skills in order to deliver effective care to all patients, regardless of their background.

Ethical Challenges in Clinical Research
Richard Culberston, PhD

This course provides students an overview of the major ethical issues encountered in the conduct of biomedical research in the clinical setting. As hospitals and academic medical centers are putting increasing emphasis on physician-conducted research, it is incumbent on medical students to familiarize themselves with the regulations, institutional policies, and professional standards of conduct important in cultivating ethical clinical research. Most importantly, students will learn how to interpret and apply these regulations, policies, and standards in order to make ethically responsible decisions in clinical research design, conduct, and reporting. It is in the application that students appreciate the challenges and understand the choices.

Dr. David B. Resnick, NIEHS IRB Chair, advocates for courses in clinical research ethics, saying that they help students develop approaches they will use in their professional futures in identifying and resolving ethical dilemmas. Physicians involved in clinical research will face challenges in honoring patient autonomy, weighing risk against benefit, recruiting subjects justly, maintaining confidentiality and anonymity, just to name a few. Unethical research practices may result from real, or perceived, institutional pressure to publish or to obtain grant funding.  Certain behaviors that we now consider inappropriate may have a history of past acceptance. Sometimes ethical deviations are the result of a researcher just not knowing about certain research norms or how those norms apply to the day-to-day conduct of research. This course provides the foundation on which future physicians can build ethical clinical research practices.

Foundations: Ethics & Justice
Rev. William Terry

This elective provides an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the principles and practice of medical ethics presented in a case-based format. Site visits and surveys of current social justice issues will be introduced in light of ethical decision making.

Health and Human Rights
Anjali Niyogi, MD, MHP

This course is designed to provide a forum for discussion of pertinent issues in global health and human rights and to motivate students to become active advocates for their resolution. Students will participate in weekly discussions with local and national experts in public health, clinical medicine, and health sciences research who are also strong advocates for human rights. The speakers will stress the importance of addressing the underlying social, political, and economic factors influencing health. Speakers will give examples from their background and the motivations for their career choices and discuss the skills and strategies necessary to become effective advocates for health and human rights.

Health Care Law & Regulation

This elective provides a broad survey of the most fundamental legal issues surrounding the delivery of health care in America.  No prior knowledge of health law is required.  By the end of this elective students should be able to explain both the current state of American health law and the social forces that have shaped its historical development. Major topics include state and federal regulation of health care providers and institutions; tort liability in the context of medical care; patient and provider rights and obligations; public and private insurance systems; and basic issues in bioethics and public health.  This elective is intended to provide only an introductory overview of the major issues in health law.

Health Care Policy and Reform
Richard Culbertson, PhD

The vision of the health policy elective is to educate and facilitate action about local and national health policy issues among Tulane medical students and the larger New Orleans community. We hope to spur thought, dialogue, and involvement that will improve access to and quality of health care, leading to better health outcomes. By exposing students to health policy issues now, we hope they will see the importance of getting involved in policy-making and advocacy and will continue to stay informed and engaged as practicing physicians who advocate on their patients’ behalf. We hope that this elective will serve to spur positive change in health care policy both presently and long-term. Course may be repeated up to unlimited credit hour,

History of Medicine Seminars
Elma LeDoux, MD, FACP, FACC

Weekly speakers will discuss various topics of interest to medical historians. Discussion of the medical aspects and their impact on current medical thought and practice will be emphasized.

Medical Humanities
Dean Paschal, MD

This elective focuses on the application of literature and film to medical education and practice.

Narrative Medicine
Ben Saxton, PhD

What does it mean to experience illness? What emotions are felt when a student meets their first patient in anatomy lab, silently waiting and seemingly voiceless? Narrative medicine is an interdisciplinary field that explores these questions and challenges disparities in health care by allowing participants (students, patients, providers) to give voice to their experiences, be heard, and valued. The field is steadily growing, featuring the works of such doctor-authors as Atul Gawande, MD, Danielle Ofri, MD, and Paul Kalanithi, MD. This course serves as a primer, giving foundational tools and a space for students to engage with narrative medicine and more fully own their academic and clinical experiences.

Palliative & End of Life Care
Naomi Karlen, MD

Hospice and palliative medicine is a medical specialty focused on enhancing quality of life for patients and their families facing serious and/or life-limiting illnesses. Physician specialists in this field work with an interdisciplinary team address the patient and family’s spiritual, emotional, physical and social concerns. This includes but is not limited to: complex symptom management, psychosocial and spiritual support, assistance with end of life decision and advance care planning, continuity of care across multiple health care settings and home, bereavement services, home and hospice care, and interdisciplinary teamwork. Hospice and palliative medicine has been shown to improve patient outcomes in some situations. More importantly, it has demonstrated improvement of quality of life, which is a core component of patient-centered care. Unfortunately, the above skill set is rarely discussed in medical education and many young physicians find themselves uncomfortable or inept at leading end of life care discussions. This elective will introduce pre-clinical medical students to basic concepts of hospice and palliative medicine, while exploring its benefits, importance, and necessity in improving the overall wellbeing of patients and impact on the health care system. This will enable them to establish a foundation for building further clinical skills, which will ultimately benefit both their patients and themselves as they move forward in their careers.

Social Contexts in Medicine
Jessica DeBord, MD, MHP
Social Contexts in Medicine is a longitudinal in which students perform interdisciplinary care coordination for vulnerable patients. Students will attend lectures, trainings, and perform home visits with vulnerable patients throughout the year.
Interested in learning more about the different religions and cultures of New Orleans and their views on medicine, death and disease?  Want to know how this can help you provide better health services to your patients?  This elective will develop your understanding of a wide variety of religions and cultural views on health care, including such faith practices as Islam, Voodoo, Buddhism, and local Vietnamese culture.  Through this elective, you will become a more sensitive and compassionate physician to those of differing faith practices and cultural traditions.
We Tell Ourselves Stories to Live: On Separating, Holding On, and Letting Go in the Face of Medical Trauma
Thomas Beller

This Elective involves a close read of Joan Didion, one of America's iconic essayists, with special attention paid to her narratives of death and trauma, both real and to an extent imagined. Also included in the reading will be her controversial essay about the end of life decisions in the Terry Schiavo case. In addition to reading assignments, students will be writing exercises focusing on both memory and observation.

Online Third and Fourth Year Electives
Stories from Nola: Reflective Reading and Writing
Ben Saxton, PhD

“At first the patient is simply a storyteller: a narrator of suffering.” In this quote, author and physician-scientist Siddhartha Mukherjee describes the integral nature of storytelling in the practice of medicine. Often the story begins with the patient, but is continued by the physician. Whether these stories continue in progress notes, a case report, a lecture vignette, an article, or healthcare policy, physicians play a crucial storytelling role in many parts of their professional and personal lives. As a result, the ability to reflect and communicate well is an important skill. In this online course, students will have the opportunity to read stories by and about doctor-writers--including Atul Gawande, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Tracy Kidder, Sheri Fink, Samuel Shem, and Rebecca Skloot--and also engage in reflective writing.

Fourth Year Electives
Medical Ethics in Geriatrics
Bertha Daniels, MD

With advances in medical knowledge and technology, people are living longer.  Healthcare providers are faced with the challenges of managing an accumulation of disabilities as the geriatric population expands.  Medical decision-making in geriatrics is complex and entails multiple considerations including benefits and risks to the patient, patient wishes, mental competence of the patient, context of the patient’s home and family, cost-containment, and human rights laws.  This has resulted in a plethora of ethical issues for which many physicians are ill-prepared.  The “Medical Ethics in Geriatrics” four-week clinical elective course is designed to give medical students tools to assist in ethical decision-making and resolving moral dilemmas in geriatric medicine, including issues in mentally incompetent patients and attention to end of life and life-sustaining therapy.