STLCOP Summer Reading Program

SSRP '16 Text: Brain on Fire (Cahalan) SSRP '16 Text: Brain on Fire (Cahalan)

The STLCOP Summer Reading Program (SSRP) welcomes new students to the College’s intellectual community through the thoughtful exploration of meaningful questions in the health humanities. Together with faculty, staff, and student volunteers all future STLCOP graduates begin their formal preparations for careers in health care by reading and personally responding to a common text chosen specifically to engage the human side of medicine.

The work for each summer’s program begins many months before as faculty, staff, and current students prepare the journal prompts, video commentaries, and other resources that new students will use to record their responses to the text. During Pre-Orientation in June, new students learn how to use the College’s academic management software to archive their journal responses together with the rest of the incoming students.

During New Student Orientation, first-year students meet with their orientation leaders, along with faculty and staff volunteers to edit their responses for inclusion in the SSRP digest, the composite record of the new class’ response to health humanities questions raised by the text.

The new students also share their creative responses in their SSRP projects. These multifaceted efforts culminate early in the academic year with a talk about the SSRP text that simultaneously concludes the summer reading program and kicks off the College’s annual Liberal Arts Convocations (LAC) series. Students can look forward to subsequent convocations and possible course assignments that continue to engage the SSRP themes.

Current SSRP users, please click here for instructions on recording your journal responses and then click here to go to Moodle and add a journal entry.  (Moodle available starting June 15, 2016.)

SSRP 2016: Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire Book Cover The members of the Class of 2023 and other new undergraduates will begin their formal STLCOP education by reading and responding to Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire in the 2016 edition of the STLCOP Summer Reading Program (SSRP ’16). Brain on Fire tells the author’s remarkable and harrowing story of waking up one day “in a strange hospital room, strapped to [her] bed” after a month-long ordeal that she could not remember. The victim (as it turned out) of a rare auto-immune disorder that conventional clinical tests could not identify, Cahalan draws upon testimonies and documentation from family, friends, physicians, and other health professionals to piece together the story of her illness – which began with bizarre changes in her personality and included seizures, “psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability.” Cahalan’s tale simultaneously terrifies, entrances, and inspires the reader, exploring the limits of even the most advanced medical and pharmaceutical expertise while falling back on the most enduring and crucial human traits of compassion, curiosity, perseverance, and patient love.


Susan Cahalan As has become our custom, the 2016-7 Liberal Arts Convocations (LAC) series will kick off with a talk about our SSRP text – in this case, by the author herself. Susannah Cahalan is a long-time writer for the New York Post, and her award-winning work has appeared in the New York Times, Psychology Today, Scientific American, BBC's Focus magazine, and Elle. A graduate of Washington University, Cahalan is now the Post’s book editor and a board member for the non-profit organization the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance as well as an international ambassador for the UK's Encephalitis Society. Cahalan is already working on her second book, Committed, about the history of psychiatry, which is scheduled for publication in 2018. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dog.

Previous SSRPs

SSRP 2015: Mud Creek Medicine

Image: Mud Creek Medicine Book CoverThe members of STLCOP’s Class of 2022 will kick off their formal preparation for careers in pharmacy and health care by reading and responding to Kiran Bhatraju’s award-winning biography Mud Creek Medicine in the 2015 edition of the STLCOP Summer Reading Program (SSRP ’15).

Mud Creek Medicine tells the inspiring story of the activist Eula Hall, who fought to secure decent health care for some of the most impoverished and medically underserved residents of Appalachia, eventually founding the Mud Creek Clinic (now known as the Eula Hall Health Center), whose mission was to serve those who had no other health care options.  Several members of the STLCOP faculty personally and enthusiastically recommended the book for our summer reading program, and the book has also earned plaudits nationwide.  

Silas House, NEH Chair of Appalachian Studies at Berea College, says, “Here is the deeply moving story of a true American hero who truly became the good she wanted to see in the world,” adding “[a]ny reader who meets Eula Hall through Kiran Bhatraju’s wonderful book will be the better for having reading it.” 

Publishers Weeklyalso praises MCM: “Much of Bhatraju’s well-crafted book reads like a swashbuckling adventure in Appalachia.”

About the Author

Photo: Mud Creek Medicine AuthorEastern Kentucky native Kiran Bhatraju is the son of an immigrant physician from India who worked with Eula Hall at the Mud Creek Clinic and Pikeville Medical Center for two decades.  Kiran began his career working on poverty issues for Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) on Capitol Hill, where he first began writing and researching Eula's life.  His writings have appeared in various magazines and newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal andLexington Herald-Leader.  He is the founder and CEO of Arcadia Power, a renewable energy company, and he is working on his second book, an oral history of immigrant physicians throughout the U.S. in the twentieth century.  Kiran lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Sara, and will kick off the 2015-16 Liberal Arts Convocations series with a talk about Mud Creek Medicine.


SSRP 2013: HeLa Spheres - The Legacies of Henrietta Lacks

Image: HeLa Spheres Book CoverDuring her treatment, her doctors took - without her knowledge or consent - a sample of her cancerous cervical tissue and provided it to Dr. George Gey to use in his efforts to develop an immortal line of human cells.

In 1950, Henrietta Lacks sought treatment in the colored ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital for what turned out to be an aggressive form of cervical cancer.

After Henrietta passed away, her cells lived on in laboratories and were eventually used all over the world to contribute to scientific advances.


SSRP 2012: Catch the Spirit

Image: Catch the Spirit Book CoverThe story of Lia Lee and the extraordinary but largely futile efforts of her health care teams to treat her epilepsy both inspires and devastates the reader, dramatizing the clash between the superbly humane goals of medical care and its inbuilt limitations.

Lia Lee, the beloved infant daughter of a Hmong refugee family from Laos, was brought to a local hospital in Merced, Ca., where she was diagnosed with severe epilepsy.

Through a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings, Lia's condition worsened until she eventually fell into a coma at the age of 4.