Previous SSRPs

SSRP 2017: On Immunity

biss_immunity_web.jpgThe members of STLCOP’s Class of 2024 began their formal preparation for careers in pharmacy and health care by reading and responding to Eula Biss’s acclaimed 2014 book “On Immunity: An Inoculation” in the 2017 edition of the STLCOP Summer Reading Program (SSRP ’17).

Declared by the New York Times one of the ten best books of the year, “On Immunity investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body.” When her child was born, the author found herself facing a host of complicated fears “of the government, the medical establishment, what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines,” and her book tells how she confronted and finally overcame those fears, learning that “you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.” The Washington Post declared “On Immunity” “cultural commentary at its highest level, a searching examination of the most profound issues of health, identity and the tensions between individual parenting decisions and society,” while the New Yorker called it an “eloquent consideration of the anti-vaccination movement [that] lays out an argument for vaccination that encompasses literature, history, and science, [bringing] a sober, erudite, and humane voice to an often overheated debate.”

About the Author

biss_web.jpgIn addition to “On Immunity”, Biss is the author of two much-praised books, “Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays,” winner of the prestigious National Book Critic Circle Award for criticism, and a collection of poetry, “The Balloonists.” Her work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, an NEA Literature Fellowship, and a Jaffe Writers’ Award. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and an Master of Fine Arts in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. Her essays have recently appeared in “The Best American Nonrequired Reading” and the “Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Nonfiction” as well as in The Believer, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, and Harper’s. Biss is also professor of instruction at Northwestern University, and she and her husband, John Bresland, form the Chicago-based band STET Everything.

SSRP 2016: Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire Book CoverThe members of the Class of 2023 and other new undergraduates began 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.

About the Author

susannah cahalanSusannah Cahalan is a long-time writer for the New York Post, and her award-winning work has appeared in the New York TimesPsychology TodayScientific 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.

SSRP 2015: Mud Creek Medicine

Image: Mud Creek Medicine Book CoverThe members of STLCOP’s Class of 2022 kicked 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 Weekly also 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 and Lexington 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 2014: Awakenings

awakenings_web.jpgOliver Sacks’s classic study “Awakenings” describes the strikingly mixed and endlessly instructive results of Sacks’s efforts to use L-DOPA in the late 1960s to treat patients with longstanding cases of encephalitis lethargica (sleepy sickness). Like Sacks’s many other books, “Awakenings” blends medical science, history, philosophy and art into a superbly capacious meditation on the human experience of health and illness in all of its simultaneously destructive and creative possibilities, opening up a myriad of questions for members of the college’s three broad disciplinary areas – pharmacy, the sciences and the humanities – to explore. In the four decades since the first edition appeared, “Awakenings” has inspired numerous scientific and creative responses, including award-nominated films (both fiction and documentary) and plays by internationally-renowned dramatists. 

About the Speaker

od-bio_web.jpgOrrin Devinsky is professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry at New York University Langone School of Medicine. He received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from Yale University, his M.D. from Harvard University. He directs the NYU Epilepsy Center and Saint Barnabas Institute of Neurology, the phenome core for the NINDS Epilepsy Phenome Genome Project, and the North American SUDEP Registry. His epilepsy research includes phenomic-genomic relations, sudden unexpected death, surgical therapies, duplication 15q syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, new medicines and devices, collaborative translational research, quality-of-life, cognition and behavior, and neuro-inflammation. Behavioral neurology research includes autism, intracranial EEG recordings to study language and neurophysiology, hyperfamiliarity syndromes, neurological basis of delusions, autonomic nervous function, and anterior cingulate cortex functions. He has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and written or edited more than 20 books. He founded Finding A Cure for Epilepsy and Seizures (FACES) and co-founded epilepsy.com and the Epilepsy Therapy Project. He serves on the boards of these organizations and the Epilepsy Foundation. Other interests include the history of neuropsychiatry, evolution, anthropology, and animal intelligence.  

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, California, 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.