The Magazine

Vital is a health humanities magazine delivering insights, reviews, and analyses of stories late-breaking and ever-relevant.  Our co-founders, Ben Utter, Ph.D. and Lesley S. Curtis, Ph.D., are writers and scholars specializing in the relationship between narrative and health. Vital provides a space for scholars, researchers, and medical practitioners to gather and share both professional and personal perspectives on news, policy, and current events. We focus on the human side of health.

The Founders

Ben Utter, Ph.D. is a bookworm and a gym rat, with a bad triathlon habit and a very patient wife, daughter, and son. He is an educator and scholar who holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Minnesota. For Vital, Ben writes about literature, religion, culture, fitness, and adoption issues, and the surprising ways they intersect.

Lesley Curtis, Ph.D. is a runner and a do-gooder who has never met a dog she didn’t like. She holds a Ph.D. in Francophone Literature and Women’s Studies from Duke University. As a scholar specializing in the history of racial and gender categorizations, she is particularly interested in how narratives about these topics influence our understanding of science, health, and healthcare. Lesley co-founded Vital as a way to advocate for health humanities education and increase public awareness about the ways that culture influences health and medicine.


Our Editorial Board

Erin Gentry Lamb, Ph.D. is Associate Professor and Chair of Biomedical Humanities and Director of the Center for Literature and Medicine at Hiram College in Ohio. Her teaching and scholarship are grounded in rhetorical analysis and feminist bioethics approaches.  She also works on the pedagogy of health humanities and age studies at the baccalaureate level, including co-authoring a comprehensive report on Baccalaureate Health Humanities Programs in the United States and co-editing a special issue of The Journal of Medical Humanities focused on “Pre-Health Humanities” (2017). Outside of work, she can be found gardening and cooking with her husband, playing games with her daughter, crafting cocktails for friends, or fostering her guilty predilections for all things frosted and lowbrow fiction.

Brandy L. Utter, M.D. graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, completed her internship and residency in Family Medicine at Wake Forest University’s Baptist Medical Center, and then practiced for six years at the Allina Health Clinic in Shoreview, MN. You can take the girl out of the South, but you have to put her back after a while to thaw out, and so she currently practices family medicine at an urgent care clinic near Little Rock, Arkansas. A passionate advocate for rural health education and an avid traveler, she has served as medical advisor to the board of the non-profit Operation Dignity International, helping to develop medical infrastructure in Ghana. She has also volunteered at clinics in Macao and Kenya. Away from work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their daughter and son. Gardening and cooking bring her joy.

Deborah Bowman is Professor of Bioethics, Clinical Ethics, and Medical Law at St. George’s, University of London. Her background is in philosophy and the arts and her academic interests concern the role of emotion in ethical decision-making, moral distress, the arts, and health. She is a regular commentator in the media, including as a program consultant to, and regular panellist on, BBC Radio 4’s series Inside the Ethics Committee. Professor Bowman is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the BMJ journal Medical Humanities. She has a commitment to public engagement and has spoken at many festivals, salons and events, including Sick, the Cheltenham Science Festival and Medicine Unboxed. Deborah is Chair of The Deafinitely Theatre Company and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Ed Deneke, M.D. is on faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He serves several roles within the department, including Assistant Director of Resident Education for the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and Assistant Adult Medical Director for the Ambulatory Psychiatry clinics. He completed medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences before moving to Ann Arbor, where he completed his residency in adult psychiatry and a fellowship in psychosomatic medicine at the University of Michigan. Dr. Deneke’s primary research and clinical interests are in the area of mental health collaborative care with an emphasis on educating trainees in new models of healthcare delivery.

Sarah Berry, Ph.D. is the author of essays on medicine, gender, race, and cultural history, covering topics ranging from Nathaniel Hawthorne and vaccination to Henrietta Lacks and medical privacy. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Medical Humanities, Mosaic, Critical Insights, Rethinking Empathy, and online at The Millions and the National Library of Medicine. She has taught courses in Health Humanities for the past decade, most recently at Hiram College. She also researches the educational value of Health Humanities and is a co-author of the report Health Humanities Baccalaureate Programs in the United States and guest editor of a forthcoming special issue of Journal of Medical Humanities devoted to developments in undergraduate Health Humanities teaching. Her book in progress is titled Patient Revolutions: Alternative Health, Literature, and Civil Reform, 1840-1975. The inspiration for the project comes from her interests in fringe cultures and grassroots political change in America. She is a dachshund mom and lives in Kentucky with her partner.

Philip D. Buchanan, Ph.D., FACMGG is a medical geneticist and clinical cytogeneticist certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics. Dr. Buchanan graduated from North Carolina State University and completed post-doctoral work at the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the University of Oregon. For twelve years, he directed the Prenatal Genetic Counseling Clinic and Cytogenetics Laboratory and participated in work at the Birth Defects Treatment Center and the University of North Carolina Cancer Research Center. In 1983, Dr. Buchanan established GeneCare Medical Genetics Center in Chapel Hill. He also served as Executive Vice President for Genetics at Alere and has helped start and manage multiple private and public companies and foundations. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of the Board for Voices Together. He is also on the board of the Fetal Medicine Foundation of the USA and of Biofluidica. He has two children and lives with his wife in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Jay Baruch, MD is Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Alpert Medical School at Brown University, where he serves as the director of the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Scholarly Concentration. His short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous print and online medical and literary journals. What’s Left Out, his latest collection of short fiction, received a Foreword Reviews 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award in the short fiction category. His first collection of short fiction, Fourteen Stories: Doctors, Patients, and Other Strangers earned Honorable Mention in the short story category in Foreword Magazine’s 2007 Book of the Year Awards. Dr. Baruch’s academic work focuses on the role of creative thinking, creative writing skills, and the arts in clinical medicine and is grounded in interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaborations. He presently serves as a Director-at-Large for the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and as the medical humanities section chair for the American College of Emergency Physicians. He was recently recognized with the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. Dr. Baruch also co-edits Littoral Medicine, the Brown Emergency Medicine ideas blog and lectures nationally on topics that include creativity in medicine, story as a clinical skill, creative writing, and medical ethics. You can find out more about his work on his website.

Kenisha Askew, M.S.Ed. is a mental health counselor by training and an advocate for community empowerment and social justice. A former Gates Millennium Scholar, she studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Pennsylvania. With a background in public policy analysis, psychology, and African American studies, she is particularly interested in how research into racial identity and mental health can positively influence individual behavior and inform public policy. Kenisha currently works at Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, where she serves children who are facing adversity by providing them with mentors. At BBBS, she also created the Mentoring and Racial Identity Training program to educate mentors on topics pertaining to race within mentoring relationships. In her spare time, she enjoys going for long drives, working out, and being a cool auntie to a host of nieces and nephews.

Jacquie Biehl is a DONA International certified doula and writer. She studied chemistry, literature, and French at Dartmouth College and Duke University. Jacquie is the founder and director of Bienvenue Birth Services and works in labor support services at WakeMed Health and Hospitals of central North Carolina. In addition to her writing and research on language, literature, healthcare, birth, breastfeeding, and infancy, she enjoys spending time with her sons, husband, and dog.

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