The University of Lynchburg will launch a new minor this fall: medical humanities. The 18-hour program, developed by a team of faculty from across the academic disciplines, bridges the humanities and health sciences in a way not previously done at Lynchburg.
“It’s a great reflection of our liberal arts education philosophy,” said one of the program’s creators, Dr. Laura Kicklighter. “The minor is multidisciplinary, with a primary focus on philosophy, history, literature, and religious studies to examine a variety of topics in medical science, technology, health, and wellness.
“It shows the inherent connections between our strong programs in science, health, and medicine, and the humanities’ focus on understanding and thinking critically about the human experience.”
Two courses — Intro to Medical Humanities (MEHU 100) and Cadavers, Culture and Medicine: The History of Human Anatomy from Antiquity to the Present (MEHU 200) — were developed specifically for the medical humanities minor. A third new course, History of Disease and Medicine (HIST 105W), has a dual purpose. It’s a medical humanities elective and also part of the DELL general education curriculum.
“The History of Disease and Medicine will focus on the way forces like disease have shaped global history, including trade, war, arts, and culture,” history professor Dr. Nikki Sanders, who created the course, said. “It will also look at the development of different medical practices, paying attention to their cultural and historical context.”
Some courses aren’t new to Lynchburg but were perfectly suited to the medical humanities curriculum. Religion, Body, and Health (RELG 207W), for example, examines the connection between the physical and spiritual.
“I had designed it as a religion course specifically for our students majoring in the health and medical sciences,” Dr. Amy Merrill Willis, chair of religious studies, said. “But I also wanted it to be useful to anyone who would experience issues of health and illness in their lives. So, that’s pretty much everyone at some point, right?”
Willis also expects the minor to appeal to students with a variety of career goals. “It’s an excellent complement for people preparing for any career that involves dealing with people who are sick or injured,” she said. “This includes all the usual medical fields, as well as health promotion/public health, exercise physiology, counseling, social work, and psychology.
“It’s also perfect for students in what I call health-adjacent careers, such as chaplaincy, ministry, health journalism, and public policy. Finally, it’s perfect for students who want to learn more about how medical and health science intersect with human experiences.”
Kicklighter, who has a PhD in medical humanities and is an associate professor in the Westover Honors College, agreed. “The gut reaction of most people is that medical humanities is for people intending on a career in health care, but in actuality it’s a minor that almost any student will find valuable,” she said.
“While not everyone will be a health care provider, we are all health care consumers. All people have bodies that change over time, experiencing different levels of disease or wellness, ability or disability, and injury and healing.
“In addition, we are all affected by political and legal policies that influence the delivery of health care. The study of medical humanities enables all people to reflect upon, articulate, and think critically about these universal lived experiences.”
Faculty believe the current COVID-19 pandemic has only emphasized the need for such a minor, making its launch timely. “The School of Humanities developed the minor in order to build connections between the humanities and health sciences,” Dr. Cheryl Coleman, associate dean of the Lynchburg College of Arts and Sciences, said. “We think the new program is increasingly relevant as a result of the pandemic.”
Dr. Tonya Price, chair of the Department of Health Promotion, worked as a registered dietitian/nutritionist for many years prior to becoming a professor. While working closely with medical providers at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, she witnessed the need for the humanities in medicine.
“I saw firsthand how medicine has the potential to become mechanized and impersonal if the provider is not well-versed in the human experience from the perspective of the patient,” she said. “This potential gap in medical education is filled by the medical humanities minor.
“Additionally, medical practitioners often work in high-stress environments with profound risks of burnout. Connecting future health care providers with the humanities can develop whole-person health in their own lives. Medical humanities should be a priority minor for any student whose goal is to work in health care.”
For more information and a complete list of courses, visit the medical humanities webpage.