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Medical Humanities
Why Study the Medical Humanities?

student profileMedicine is both art and science. It is the art of understanding humankind in the context of disease – not just recognizing or diagnosing the pathological condition, but seeing how an individual’s disease is a product of his or her environment, constitution, and personality. By exploring medicine through the lenses of the historian, the ethicist, the sociologist, the anthropologist, the writer, and the visual artist, students gain insights into the nature of the human condition, human suffering, personhood, and the responsibilities of individuals to one another in sickness and in health. These insights are valuable for both the aspiring clinician and anyone who will someday get sick and seek medical care. The history of medicine, for example, can provide orientation in a discipline that is changing at a dizzying pace – presenting a picture of where medicine has been, how it is evolving, and what promises and challenges its future may hold. The study of bioethics and medical ethics offers a vital reminder that medicine is a social enterprise that must balance cultural values and moral principles with scientific goals. Literature and the visual arts can convey the personal experiences of sickness and healing, revealing the subjective side of clinical care. Sociologists and anthropologists illuminate the ways in which professional and popular cultures interact, alternately clashing with and complimenting one another. Taken together, these disciplines offer both physicians-in-training and health care “consumers” an enriched understanding of the dynamic relationship between medicine and the larger social world of which it is a part.

In 2000, the University of Oklahoma Honors College and the College of Medicine created a partnership to further the study of humanities in relationship to medicine. Today, at the Honors College there are two programs for students interested in pursuing study in the medical humanities: the Medical Humanities Scholars Program (a highly competitive academic and extracurricular program for graduating high school seniors who know they wish to attend medical school; this is a joint venture with the OU College of Medicine) and the Medical Humanities Minor (a stimulating and flexible interdisciplinary curriculum open to any honors-eligible student at OU; the minor is administered by the Honors College alone). The first eight classes of Medical Humanities Scholars have now graduated, and four have completed their medical education at the OU College of Medicine, where the opportunities to explore the art, as well as the science, of medicine are growing. Indeed, the newly revised curriculum at the College of Medicine includes electives such as “history of medicine,” “literature and medicine,” “photography and medicine” “medicine and spirituality,” for first- and second-year students. Likewise, over one hundred students have taken advantage of the Medical Humanities Minor, focusing their studies on topics such as the politics of AIDS vaccine development, the bioethics of cross-cultural medical practice, music therapy, and the history of sports medicine. Please take a moment to learn more about the exciting venues for studying “the art of medicine” at OU and at other institutions by exploring our new web site using the navigation tabs along the top left side of this page.

Sarah W. Tracy, Ph.D., Director Medical Humanities Program
Reach for Excellence Associate Professor of Honors University of Oklahoma Honors College

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