Shira Birnbaum

Associate Professor of Practice
  • Health Professions Education

About Me

I am a professor of education, an ethnographer, and a psychiatric registered nurse. I teach doctoral-level health professions students about research methods and educational theory. My professional experience is in inpatient, urban, and community mental health, and my academic background is in anthropology, critical social theory, education policy, and the history and philosophy of teaching and learning. I have taught classes in learning theory, philosophy and history of education, research methods, learning assessment, and organizational leadership, among other subjects, and I have developed trainings and educational materials for hospitals, social-services agencies, and arts organizations. My writing has appeared in mass-print media as well as in peer-reviewed academic journals, and I am the author of two academic books. My current work examines the intersection of healthcare and the humanities. My 2017 book, Therapeutic Communication in Mental Health Nursing: Aesthetic and Metaphoric Processes in the Engagement with Challenging Patients (Routledge), was an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year, awarded first place in the Psychiatric and Mental Health category. I am an Affiliate Scholar at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and a graduate of the Fellowship program there, and I am a Staff Research Affiliate in the nursing department at McLean Hospital. My undergraduate degree is from Barnard College, Columbia University, where I graduated magna cum laude. My Master's degree is from New York University, where I was a Shell Fellow, and I have a PhD from Florida State University, where I studied Educational Foundations and Policy Studies with a specialization in history, philosophy, and sociology of education.

What I Teach

Trends in Health Professions Education
Principles of Inquiry and Evidence 
Perspectives in Research and Theory 
Dissertation
Leadership and Organizational Change

Research/Creative Activities

I am a qualitative researcher. My early published work addressed issues of race, class, and gender in education and the interplay of social structures and individual agency in the creation of social institutions. More recently, my work has explored organizational dynamics, communication, and narrative-making in complex clinical settings. I am especially interested in the ethical underpinnings of research and the conceptual framing of research questions. My 2017 book, Therapeutic Communication in Mental Health Nursing: Aesthetic and Metaphoric Processes in the Engagement with Challenging Patients (Routledge), was about the intersection of nursing, human development, and the humanities. (You can read about it on my bio page at Routledge Featured Authors). My previous book, Law and Order and School: Daily Life in an Educational Program for Juvenile Delinquents (Temple University Press 2001), was an ethnography about justice-involved adolescents and their school experiences. I am currently working on a new book about refugees, child development under conditions of civil strife, and narratives of memory.