Uniting Medicine with Culture

Hektoen International is a free online journal of medical humanities published by the Hektoen Institute of Medicine. Its articles are first published in the appropriate Section, which is also the official publication date. The articles may later be featured in the quarterly Current Issue, in the Hektorama magazine, in Themes, and in the Social Media—for we think of our journal as a museum and its articles as its precious collection, to be exhibited again and again, like a Correggio or Titian, not archived and forgotten.

We also publicize our articles through email newsletters! Publishing online allows prompt publishing, gives access to a wider audience, and keeps pace with evolving technology. In an era of change and innovation, just as when the printing press of Guttenberg replaced the illuminated manuscripts of monks and scribes, it is truly exciting to be on the cusp of new developments and experiment with new forms of communication, but also to balance the modern with the traditional, and publish a serious journal of medical humanities.


Review and praise for Hektoen International as published in the November 4, 2021, Times Literary Supplement, London, article by Thomas Morris, “Gut feeling: Where art meets medicine”:

“Hektoen International, which describes itself as an online journal of the medical humanities, has been published quarterly since 2008. Its editor, George Dunea, is a nephrologist and professor of medicine at the University of Illinois; he is also the CEO of the Hektoen Institute of Medical Research, a not-for-profit venture based in Chicago and dedicated to medical research and education.

The rubric “medical humanities” is interpreted liberally. The history of medicine (and surgery) is a staple of the journal, with essays about celebrated physicians of the past, the discovery of important drugs, or the development of key surgical techniques. While many of the subjects will be familiar to anybody with a passing knowledge of the field, there is a welcome admixture of the obscure and the overlooked. A recent issue includes a fascinating profile of Justine Siegemund, a pioneering midwife from seventeenth-century Silesia, one of the first women to write a German-language medical textbook – while another looks at the work of Doris Unland, an American surgical nurse thought to have taken part in more operations than any other person in history.

One of the themes to which Hektoen International returns repeatedly, and with particular success, is the medical histories (in the clinical sense) of the great and the good. Topics have included George Gershwin’s brain tumour, the hand injury that ended Robert Schumann’s performing career, and the various ailments of Samuel Johnson. The current issue includes essays on the deaths of two American presidents, James Garfield and Andrew McKinley. Both died after being shot by assassins, but in both cases the precise cause of death has long been debated. The cardiologist Philip Liebson suggests that President Garfield succumbed to an infection caused by poor hygiene (we learn that the White House basement was “awash with excrement”, while the President’s personal physician did not believe in the new-fangled aseptic methods introduced by Robert Lister). President McKinley was even more unlucky: as Dunea explains, recent research suggests that he died from traumatic gunshot pancreatitis – the first recorded case of this rare complication.

The journal also publishes occasional book reviews and ventures into short fiction. Other essays look at works of art, literature and even music through a medical-historical lens. Typical subjects include the anatomical descriptions of Homer’s Iliad, and the possibility that the subject of Vermeer’s painting “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” was suffering from syphilis. The Ugandan writer Yvonne Kusiima suggests that severe migraines suffered by Lewis Carroll caused visual disturbances which inspired the shape-shifting antics of his heroine Alice.

As its title implies, Hektoen International draws its contributors from all over the world: Ukraine, Nigeria, Israel and India are all represented in the latest issue. There is a strong contingent of emeritus professors, who write about the history of their disciplines with as much enthusiasm as erudition. But the recently retired rub shoulders with the not yet qualified: one of the most interesting recent articles, contributed by a medical student, explains how Covid-19 has moved the teaching of anatomy from the cadaver to the computer screen.”

Thomas Morris is the author of two books about the history of medicine. The Dublin Railway Murder: The sensational true story of a Victorian murder mystery is published this month.


Hektoen International Named 2021 Apex Award Winner – Foxglove Alliance Press Release

Hektoen International, an online-only journal dedicated to the medical humanities, once again was named a recipient of an Apex Award of Excellence in the Magazines, Journals & Tabloids – electronic publications category. Hektoen International received this same accolade in 2020. The Apex Awards are sponsored by Communications Concepts and have the annual competition for 33 years for publishers, editors, writers and designers.

Hektoen International debuted in 2008 and features more than 2,800 articles submitted by U.S. and international authors on medical humanities topics such as ethics, nursing, antiquity, neurology, surgery, psychiatry, end-of-life and hospitals of note. Hektoen International also presents content in a variety of formats including personal essays, book reviews, art essays/flashes, poetry, and vignettes.

Promoted as an interface of medicine, culture, and education, Hektoen International has a vast reach of more than 68,000 subscribers and averages more than 1 million on-line visitors a year. It also hosts two writing contests a year and added a new section in 2020, Hektorama, which is a re-curation of Hektoen International articles around topics such as epidemics and African-American history.

According to the journal’s founder and editor-in-chief Dr. George Dunea, “receiving our second APEX Award is quite fulfilling, knowing that our work is recognized outside of our subscribers and regular readers and is comparable to a number of outstanding digital offerings. It also provides an independent endorsement of the quality of the educational programming that the Hektoen Institute of Medical Research continues to offer.” Dr. Dunea is also the President and CEO of the Hektoen Institute of Medical Research. Other 2021 APEX award winners included:

  • AARP – The Magazine
  • Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: COVID-19 and the Pathfinder Tool
  • Neurology Today
  • University of Glasgow:  COVID -10 in Inflammatory Disease
  • American Academy of Dermatology:  Dermatology World
  • Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing
  • The Rheumatologist


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