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Humanistic Elements of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston-McGovern.pdf (497.6 kB)

Humanistic Elements of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston (McGovern)

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posted on 2022-07-06, 16:21 authored by Post Discipline AdminPost Discipline Admin
Medical humanities draws on many disciplines and fields—including history, literature, art history, media studies, philosophy, law, ethics, religion, theology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and other arts and sciences—to study (a) the context of medicine, (b) the experience of medicine, (c) the goals of medicine, and (d) concepts in and of medicine. A common goal of medical humanities is to make clinicians, at all levels of their training, more “humane” or “compassionate.” Another common goal includes making clinicians more “well-rounded.” Still another goal includes promoting teaching, learning, and scholarship in medical humanities simply for its own sake. But what is “medical humanities”? There are debates about the term. Three areas of debate concern (1) whether medical humanities is a field or a discipline; (2) whether medical humanities is multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary; and (3) whether the word “medicine” should be used at all. How one approaches these debates influences how one names the field or discipline (e.g., “medical humanities,” “the medical humanities,” “bioethics and humanities,” “health humanities,” “clinical humanities,” “humanism in medicine,” and so forth). These debates are not resolved. In this seminar, you are encouraged to think about your own definition of medical humanities. My (i.e., Ray’s) own position is that medical humanities is an interdisciplinary field and that, while there is value in constituting a larger field such as “health humanities,” medical humanities would (and should) still occupy its own distinctive space within the larger field of health humanities. Medical humanities is an enterprise that goes beyond any single discipline, and the primary—but not the sole—task of medical humanities, as I see it, is to generate new interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary knowledge by means of a variety of methods. While, as noted, the debates about terminology are not settled, this much is clear: Medical humanities draws from many disciplines and fields to examine issues related to the development and the practice of medicine. In this sense, medical humanities is similar to other fields such as religious studies or gender studies—fields that utilize various disciplines and methods to study a subject such as religion or gender. What is different, however, is that medical humanities, unlike many other academic fields, seems to require or to imply an essential practical component because all medical humanities knowledge has some relationship to (1) the care of patients and/or populations or (2) the care of physicians themselves. In this course, students will explore a few topics in medical humanities in some depth. This course will allow students to develop their own interests in medical humanities by working on a substantial final project that will represent the individual student’s interests and scholarly approach to medical humanities. It is my hope that students will come away with an increased understanding of themselves and what it means to be a professional in the world of medicine, that, in other words, students will examine their own lives, following in the footsteps of Socrates, learning how to love and to work with all the fullness that life affords (see the epigrams). UTH, Houston (McGovern) also sponsors blue book, or extracurricular, electives each semester. These electives are designed to supplement and enrich the medical school’s curriculum, exposing students to a range of topics related to the humanities and ethics. Some electives are faculty-led; however, a growing number of these courses are designed by medical students who have identified topics of interest or gaps that can be addressed through the medical humanities. Relevant courses that use literature include: Introduction to Medical Humanities, Humanities in Dermatology, and Humanities in Film. For more information, see This information has been collected for the Post-Discipline Online Syllabus Database. The database explores the use of literature by schools of professional education in North America. It forms part of a larger project titled Post-Discipline: Literature, Professionalism, and the Crisis of the Humanities, led by Dr Merve Emre with the assistance of Dr Hayley G. Toth. You can find more information about the project at Data was collected and accurate in 2021/22.


Subject Area


Geographic Region

West South Central

University or College

University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston (McGovern)

Funding Status


Endowment (according to NACUBO's U.S. and Canadian Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year 2020 Endowment Market Value and Change* in Endowment Market Value from FY19 to FY20) ($1,000)


Annual Tuition and Mandatory Fees 2021-2022 ($) (Resident; Non-resident, where applicable)

22646; 30167

Course Title

Humanistic Elements of Medicine

Terminal Degree of Instructor(s)


Position of Instructor(s)


Academic Year(s) Active

Since 2014

Course Enrolment


Primary Works on Reading List

Everyman by Philip Roth, and Health Care Reform: What it is, Why it's Necessary, How it Works by Johnathan Gruber.

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