top of page


Samuel Shem, Professor of Medicine in Medical Humanities at NYU Medical School, is a novelist, playwright, and activist. His first novel, The House of God, was called “one of the two most important American medical novels of the 20th century” by The Lancet and was chosen by Publishers Weekly as #2 on its list of “The 10 Best Satires of All Time” (#1 Don Quixote, #3 Catch-22).


His novel on psychiatric training, Mount Misery, was called “another classic—biting, humorous, superb.” The Spirit of the Place won two American "Best Literary Novel of the Year” awards, and At The Heart of the Universe was described by Abraham Verghese as “poignant and tender, a novel about love, parenting, and the nature of home—a lovely transformative story.” Shem and Janet Surrey’s award-winning play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, ran Off Broadway for a year.

"With Janet Surrey he has also written The Buddha's Wife: A Novel with Commentary, and We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues between Women and Men."  And an essay: Fiction as Resistance.    He is an in demand speaker all over the world on "How to Stay Human in Medicine." 


Graduating from Harvard and Harvard Medical School, Shem was a Rhodes Scholar with a DPhil in Physiology at Oxford and on the Harvard Medical faculty for decades. Honored as a Visiting Artist/Scholar at The American Academy in Rome, he is an in-demand speaker around the world, and has given over sixty commencement speeches on “How to Stay Human in Medicine.”





  • Harvard College, B.A. Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa Honors, 1966

  • Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford University, England, 1966-1969

  • Oxford University, Ph.D. in Physiology, 1971

  • Harvard Medical School, M.D., Alpha Omega Alpha Honors, 1973

  • Intern in Medicine, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, 1973-4

  • Resident in Psychiatry, McLean Hospital, 1974-77

  • Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Harvard University 1977-2002

  • Private practice of psychiatry, 1977-2005

  • Co-chair, PEN/New England International Writers Organization, 1981-1987

  • Director, Bill W. and Dr. Bob Project, Division on Addictions, Harvard Medical School, 1992-present (Principal Investigator, Robert Wood Johnson Grant)

  • Venture Partner, MPM Capital, “Investing in Healthcare Innovation,” 1994-2004

  • Affiliated Scholar, Stone Center, Wellesley College, and co-director of the Gender Relations Research Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women, 1992-2007

  • American Academy in Rome, Visiting Artist and Scholar, 2012

  • Producer, Off-Broadway revival BILL W. AND DR. BOB: Soho Playhouse, 2013-2014, Teatro Jaco Costa Rica and Off Broadway Soho Playhouse and tour 2015-2016

  • Clinical Professor of Medicine, New York University Medical School, Program in Medical Humanities, Literature,  and Bioethics, and Professor of Psychiatry in the Division of Substance Abuse, Bellevue Hospital, 2014-present

bottom of page