What shapes the questions, approaches and decisions physicians and other medical professionals make about patient care? Do they scratch beneath the surface and look at patients holistically, taking into consideration their socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds and other factors? The answer could well lie in their early undergraduate education. What started with Hiram College’s pioneering biomedical humanities program, the first major of its kind in 1998, has transitioned into a trend in health care education, particularly among pre-med students, according to a Dec. 12, 2016 AMCC (Association of American Medical Colleges) News article More Pre-Med Students Opting for Health Humanities Programs.
The article references Trucian Ostheimer, M.D., a Hiram alumnus who attributes his undergraduate biomedical humanities degree, which incorporated coursework in literature, theater and communications, to smoothing his path in medical school at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
“Echoing the Hiram ethos, our program has been deeply interdisciplinary since its inception,” says Erin Lamb, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of Hiram’s Biomedical Humanities Program. Lamb, who also serves as director of Hiram’s Center for Literature and Medicine, adds that “health humanities makes good sense at the baccalaureate level, where students have far more time for in-depth study and reflection, and where the characters of these future health professionals are still very much in formation.”
Lamb, and former Hiram colleague, Sarah Berry, Ph.D., with coauthor Therese Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, revealed in their report Health Humanities Baccalaureate Programs (updated December 2016) that baccalaureate-level health humanities programs have swelled since 2000, quadrupling from 14 to 58 currently, with several more in the works.
“This is a dramatic growth, especially at a time when the value of humanities programs in general are being critically questioned,” Lamb says.
Lamb says that health humanities programs, even for those who do not plan to pursue medical careers, provide students value long after their days in the classroom.
“We are all patients, family members, policymakers or voters. The key issues that health humanities grapples with – death, aging, disability, illness and wellness, social justice, access to health care, meaningful human interaction and the ways science and medicine shape our lives – are concerns relevant to everyone,” Lamb explains.
Lamb and Berry will serve as panelists in a roundtable discussion addressing health humanities developments and directions at the baccalaureate and masters levels at the annual Health Humanities Consortium meeting in Houston in March.
“Our report, the special issue [AAMC News] and the conference presentation are all part of the same effort to bring forward the innovations in disciplinary scope and teaching that are especially generative at the baccalaureate level right now, with programs, educators and students proliferating,” Berry says.
For information about Hiram College’s Biomedical Humanities Program, visit Biomedical Humanities.