Health Humanities

 Health Humanities Program 

Health Humanities is a rapidly growing, interdisciplinary field that applies humanistic perspectives to health and healthcare. The humanities (communications, cultural and language studies, history, literature, philosophy, theology and religious studies, and the arts) are indispensable to humane healthcare because they teach us about what it means to be human. They teach us about the human condition, about human suffering and healing, and about human well-being and flourishing. The Health Humanities Program emphasizes the study of human dignity, human values, and healthcare ethics (bioethics). The program employs holistic and integrated understandings of what it means to be human, in contrast to what has been called "biomedical reductionism." Human beings cannot be reduced to biochemical processes but are complex wholes of body, mind, and soul. Humane healthcare depends on that recognition: on seeing patients as whole persons. The program complements the movement toward primary and patient-centered care in health policy today. It provides an interdisciplinary approach to investigating and understanding the profound effects of disease and illness on patients, on health professionals, and on the social worlds in which they live and work.

Program director: Randall Poole, Ph.D., Professor of History

Program Curriculum

  • Major: 36 credits
  • Minor: 20 credits

The following five core courses are required for the major and minor:

  • HHU 2900 Health Humanities Foundations
  • HHU/PHL 2301 Health, Happiness, and Human Well-Being
  • HHU/ENG 3010 Trauma and Recovery: Medicine and Literature
  • HHU/GCL 3401 Healthcare Across Cultures [or] HHU/HSC 3101 Health for All: A Global Perspective
  • HHU/HIS 3370 Health, Disease, and Medicine in History

The minor is met by the five core courses (20 credits).

The major requires 16 additional credits, selected from the following electives:

  • SWK 3350 Understanding Systems of Privilege and Oppression (2 cr.)
  • SWK 3360 American Social Welfare Policy
  • SWK 3362 Human Behavior in the Social Environment
  • SWK 3395 Social Work and Healthcare
  • ECN 3335 Contemporary Healthcare Economic Systems
  • HSC/GER 2203 U.S. Healthcare System
  • PSY 2208 Lifespan Developmental Psychology
  • PSY 3216 Personality (2 cr.)
  • PSY 3328 Behavior Management (2 cr.)
  • PSY 3363 Health Psychology (2 cr.)
  • PSY 3423 Abnormal Psychology
  • GER/PSY/SWK 3315 Psychosocial Aspects of Aging
  • GER 3316 Health and Functioning in Late Life
  • GER/PSY 3424 Mental Health and Aging (2 cr.)
  • TRS 3310 Religious Perspectives on Living, Dying, and Grieving
  • TRS 3311 Religious Perspectives on Healthcare Ethics
  • PHL 4420 Philosophy of Science

Additional elective courses for the major are possible, selected in consultation with the program director. 

Program Outcomes

Graduates of the program should be able to:

  • Understand humanistic perspectives, human values, and their health applications.
  • Deploy a comprehensive and multifaceted understanding of human health as human well-being and flourishing, encompassing the physical, mental, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions of human life and experience.
  • Use skills that are essential for humane healthcare: observation, analysis, communication, critical thinking, discernment, empathy, and self-reflection.
  • Demonstrate interdisciplinary preparation for humane healthcare through a deeper understanding of (and empathy for) impairment, illness, suffering, healing, aging and dying as human experiences.
  • Counter the main sources of dehumanization in modern medicine and healthcare, including biomedical reductionism, misuse of technology and commercialization.
  • Employ knowledge of the main concepts, principles, applications and controversies in biomedical ethics.
  • Show familiarity with humanities concepts that are part of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).


Students who pursue a Health Humanities major or minor, along with required science courses outside the program, will be exceptionally well-prepared for admission to medical school or to other health science graduate programs.

This program is also ideal for students who have an interest in law school, in earning a graduate degree in public health, or in pursuing an administrative career in the healthcare industry.