The Paul McHugh Program for Human Flourishing

The Paul McHugh Program for Human Flourishing provides opportunities for physicians who are at all levels of training and practice – from pre-medical students through emeritus faculty – at Johns Hopkins University and beyond to explore the ‘big questions’ of what it means to be human, to be a physician, and to lead a good life – under the mentorship of physician faculty recognized nationally for their excellence as clinicians and teachers. 


To bring the body of scientific evidence from interdisciplinary scholarly research on the key pathways to human health and flourishing to an audience of clinicians and clinicians-in-training, locally and globally.

This mission is primarily an educational one; however, with the establishment of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard (led by VanderWeele with a mission to integrate knowledge from the empirical social sciences and the humanities on topics central to human flourishing), our thinking about our mission has expanded to include all three parts of the academic tripartite mission (education, research, and clinical). In addition to bringing this evidence to an audience of clinicians and clinicians-in-training (education), we will bring this evidence to patients (clinical) and evaluate its application in clinical and education programs (research).

The McHugh Program core faculty recognizes that the practice of medicine is a moral enterprise and that these philosophical questions are central to medical education and patient care. They also recognize that, given the explosion of scientific and technologic advances, an imbalance has occurred in medical education and practice between the technical and human caring sides of medicine, such that the human aspects of medicine have moved to the periphery of the curriculum and patient care.


To achieve more humanistic clinical practice relevant to human health and flourishing.

This ultimate destination is based on the recognition that health is a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In order to help individuals achieve and sustain true health, physicians must understand each of their patients as a human being living within a particular social context. However, given so many recent advances in science and technology, the teaching and practice of medicine has understandably turned its focus towards this side of medicine, and away from medicine’s more personal, human caring aspect. The use of the electronic health record and computer in the exam room has also distracted physicians from understanding their patients as individuals. The resulting lack of connection with patients not only adversely affects the health of patients, but also leads to diminished professional satisfaction among physicians.

Aristotle used the term eudamonia, best translated as flourishing, to describe the state when all aspects of life are good. The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science – led by Tyler VanderWeele – has reinvigorated the argument for the relevance of these big questions – long considered in Western philosophy and the arts – to medicine and health. VanderWeele’s model of human flourishing includes the well-established components of happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relationships, and financial and material stability, for which he has proposed four evidence-based pathways: family, work, education, and religious community.

Faculty members serve as Program Director, Associate Director and co-director of the Longitudinal Scholars Program, supported by an External Advisory Council Chair.

We are advised by both internal and external advisory councils who support our mission. The Internal Advisory Council includes primarily faculty members from within the Department who meet independently from the External Advisory Council on a quarterly basis.

The volunteer External Advisory Council includes thought leaders, scholars, and philanthropists, drawn from other medical disciplines as well as from fields such as public health, philosophy, law, history, mathematics, theology, finance, ethnic studies, gender studies, athletics, and bioethics; some are members of the Johns Hopkins community and others come from beyond our institution, including from academic centers around the nation. The External Advisory Council convenes at Johns Hopkins semiannually, joined by the Internal Advisory Council members. 


Director: Margaret S. Chisolm, M.D. | Associate Director: Paul R. McHugh, M.D.

Funding for the McHugh Program currently comes from private foundations and philanthropic contributions. Make a gift.

Contact Us

To learn more about the Paul McHugh Program for Human Flourishing and to get involved with any of our educational activities, please contact:

Director Margaret Chisolm at [email protected] or 410-502-3150

Dr. Chisolm can also be contacted via Twitter @whole_patients