Introduction to Health Humanities

Vitruvian Man drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

A free four-course series: Introduction to Health Humanities

Health humanities, also known as medical humanities, applies humanistic perspectives and liberal learning to health care and medicine. It is a rapidly growing, interdisciplinary field that explores questions of value and meaning in human health and in health care.

Join our Introduction to Health Humanities MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), taught in four courses to learn more about this growing field and how you can apply this in your current occupation.

A four course series in which you may take one, two, three or all of the courses. See start dates below.

Course 1 Introduction to Health Humanities I: Spirituality, Religion and Culture in Healthcare
Course opens May 18 and must be completed by June 26

Course 2 Introduction to Health Humanities II: The Moral Imagination in Healthcare
Course opens June 15 and must be completed by July 24 

Course 3 Introduction to Health Humanities III: Ethical Decision Making in Healthcare
Course opens July 13 and must be completed by August 2

Course 4 Introduction to Health Humanities IV: Mindfulness in Healthcare
Course opens Aug 10 and must be completed by September 18


  • CEU credits approved by AHIMAEarn a total of 12 free CEUs from AHIMA, three per course.
  • These free MOOCs are eligible for CEUs in the areas of social work and nursing in the state of Minnesota, and may be eligible in those areas in other states.  Please refer to your state association's guidelines.

Course series description

This series of four short courses is entitled Introduction to Health Humanities. You may take one, two, three or all the courses; the content of each course is independent. However, intentional integration of the content from all the courses provides a fuller and deeper understanding of Health Humanities.

  1. Introduction to Health Humanities I: Spirituality, Religion and Culture in Healthcare
    1. Perspectives on diversity and commonality.
    2. The role of spirituality, religion and culture in meaning making.
    3. How spirituality, religion and culture can affect healthcare.
    4. Questions to explore the patient’s spiritual, religious and cultural needs.
  2. Introduction to Health Humanities II: The Moral Imagination in Healthcare
    1. Moral imagination as the ground for empathic healthcare.
    2. Creating meaning out of illness through story.
    3. Developing the moral imagination through pathography and visual art.
    4. Analyzing poetry as a means for developing moral imagination.
  3. Introduction to Health Humanities III: Ethical Decision Making in Healthcare
    1. The foundational moral experience as the ground for healthcare ethics.
    2. Key principles for ethical decision-making in healthcare.
    3. Applications of autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence and justice.
    4. Utilitarian and Kantian ethical theories.
  4. Introduction to Health Humanities IV: Mindfulness in Healthcare
    1. Mindfulness, presence, and competent and compassionate healthcare.
    2. Inattentional blindness: causes and remedies.
    3. Practices for being fully present.
    4. Deep listening as the first step to compassion.

This series of courses provides an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of Health Humanities. It considers the unique contributions, approaches, and resources that the humanities and arts bring to health care. The courses discuss basic methodological issues such as the differences between the health sciences and health humanities, fundamental concepts such as human dignity and personhood, and core philosophical questions such as materialism and biomedical reductionism, mind-body dualism, and the meaning and mystery of being human. The courses introduce biomedical or healthcare ethics and its primary principles of autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice. Topics related to spirituality and illness are investigated, including the meaning of human suffering and mortality, end-of-life issues and ethical care of the dying, and hope. The courses are concerned throughout to develop compassion and empathy as essential skills in humane health care.

No Text is required; readings and videos will be provided.

Recommended reading

  • Cole, T., Carolin, N., & Carson, R., (2015). Medical humanities: An introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Epstein, R., (2017). Attending: Medicine, mindfulness and humanity. New York: Scribner.
  • De Kerangal, M., (2017). The heart. New York: Picador
  • Kushner, H., (2004). When bad things happen to good people. New York: Anchor.

About the course author

Gary J. Boelhower, PhD, Professor emeritus at The College of St. ScholasticaGary J. Boelhower, PhD is professor emeritus at The College of St. Scholastica. He teaches courses in healthcare ethics, health humanities, contemporary moral issues, death and dying, leadership, and religions of the world. He has taught secondary, undergraduate, graduate, and executive development courses and has administered educational programs for over 45 years, serving as founding executive director of the Center for Spirituality and Leadership, dean of lifelong learning, dean of graduate studies and vice president for academic affairs. He has consulted with a broad range of organizations (healthcare, government, education, non-profit, business) on values, teamwork, mission and strategy, diversity, professional ethics, wise decision-making, and the respectful workplace. He has given over a thousand professional presentations and has keynoted at national and regional conferences on nursing, rural healthcare, health information management and critical access hospitals. He has facilitated executive development programs on dialogue, authentic leadership, values and vision, and appreciative inquiry. He has published scholarly articles, educational texts, and poetry. His recent books include Naming Rites: Poems (Holy Cow! Press 2017), Choose Wisely: Practical Insights from Spiritual Traditions (Paulist Press 2013), Mountain 10: Climbing the Labyrinth Within (Mountain 10 Resources 2013), and Marrow, Muscle, Flight: Poems (Wildwood River Press 2011) which won the Midwest Book Award. He enjoys backpacking, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sailing, and writing poetry.


ASSESSMENTS: Each course includes 4 brief assessments in the form of multiple-choice, true-false, and/or matching quizzes to check your knowledge of key concepts and ideas. Optional discussion board posting and response posting facilitates the development of a learning community and the sharing of insights from diverse professional perspectives.

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