Former Humanities Texas board member Abraham Verghese was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on September 22, 2016. The medal honors an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the human experience, broadened citizen engagement with history and literature, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to cultural resources. In presenting the prestigious award, the President praised Dr. Verghese "for reminding us that the patient is the center of the medical enterprise. His range of proficiency embodies the diversity of the humanities, from his efforts to emphasize empathy in medicine to his imaginative renderings of the human drama."
Born in Ethiopia, Verghese emigrated to America when civil war interrupted his medical studies in Addis Ababa. After completing his medical training at Madras Medical College in India, he returned to the United States for a medical residency in Johnson City, Tennessee. His interest in writing led him to study at the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts.
In 1991, he joined the faculty of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in El Paso as professor and chief of the Division of Infections Diseases. He moved from El Paso to San Antonio in 2002, where he was the founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. There, he developed a humanities and ethics curriculum that was a key component of all four years of the school's medical program. While in San Antonio, Dr. Verghese served on the Humanities Texas board of directors from 2006 to 2008. He generously supported the capital campaign to purchase and restore the historic Byrne-Reed House.
Since 2007, he has taught at Stanford University School of Medicine as a tenured professor and senior associate chair for the Theory of Practice and Medicine. He is currently the Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor Vice Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine.
He has also written a number of books, including My Own Country: A Doctor's Story and The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss. His first novel, Cutting for Stone, remained on the bestseller list of the New York Times for over two years after its publication in 2009.
Dr. Verghese is the second former board member of Humanities Texas to be honored as a National Humanities Medal recipient. San Antonio architect Everett Fly received the medal last year for his preservation of historic African American sites. Mr. Fly was a member of Humanities Texas's board for eleven years (1988–1999), serving as vice chair in 1992 and as chair from 1993 to 1994.