University announces new medical humanities degree program

May 26, 2017 |

Faculty members in the College of Sciences and the College of Arts and Humanities have joined forces to create a new major that brings the two colleges together. Medical humanities, which will be available as both a major and minor, will launch fall 2017 and will feature classes from eight different academic departments across campus.

The aim of the new major is to connect students with the personal side of medicine, providing a more expansive view of career opportunities by combining what students may love in humanities with how they want to serve in health sciences.

Dr. Debbie Duke, assistant dean of pre-professional health sciences, said Harding’s move into areas of healthcare pairs perfectly with the introduction of this major and its goal to bring a humanities perspective into the health sciences.

“With new programs, Harding has really began moving in the area of healthcare,” Debbie Duke said. “This is a perfect fit, to me, to be doing something like this — to combine everyone, not just our sciences, and to show the profound role that our humanities play.”

Students looking to pursue careers in public health, public policy, law and medical missions can benefit from the diverse course offerings of the major, and students can utilize the minor to specialize their major coursework — for example, health journalism or bioethics.

The inception of the major began in January 2017 when Duke and Dr. Kathy Dillion, associate professor of English, decided to try to make their dream of the major a reality. They began working with Judy Hall, administrator of the pre-professional health science program, and Dr. J.R. Duke, associate professor of history. Later, a standing committee of six faculty members — three from the College of Sciences and three from the College of Arts and Humanities — was established to oversee the major and minor.

After speaking with the provost, college deans, and faculty members who would be teaching the courses, the addition of the medical humanities major was approved by the Academic Affairs Committee and a unanimous vote in the April faculty meeting. Debbie Duke said the excitement for the major was shown in how quickly everyone moved to make it happen.

“It seems like the more we’ve talked, the more exciting it has become as to how we can combine our skills and knowledge to come up with something really great for our students,” she said.

For Dillion, the new major comes as a welcomed collaboration between the two colleges that traditionally see students staying within their respective courses and programs.

“A big question we asked when working on this was, ‘Why do we have to separate these two areas?’” Dillion said. “There are a lot of doctors, even in our own community, who write and collaborate to enhance their work. For the English department, a lot of times we see students who have science desires. So this really gives those students an opportunity to put together their love of English and their interest in the sciences.”

When developing this new opportunity for students, Duke said the committee looked at how humanities with the sciences can benefit students who are hoping to go to medical school after graduation.

“Medical schools are looking for people with better training in the humanities,” Duke said. “The [Medical College Admission Test] has just added psychology and sociology to things they are testing, so we know they are looking for students who have a better understanding of people and humanities.”

According to Dillion, Harding’s Christian mission makes the major a perfect fit to expand students’ worldview, especially relating to health care, poverty and missions around the globe.

“If our mission is spiritual in nature, then it seems like this major is tailor-made for Harding,” Dillion said. “You’ve got to care about the story and the spiritual well-being of a person in order to be able to care for them in all other areas.”

Provost Marty Spears said he is proud of the faculty who has collaborated across multiple departments to make this new program that will benefit students.

“We ask faculty to think outside the box and consider new programs that are a good fit for Harding and will help our students,” Spears said. “This is a great example of how well this can work. This new major has created conversations about potential new graduate programs. Who knows where it will take us.”

Dillion said whether or not students in the program go forth as doctors, professors or researchers, the coursework will teach a different perspective to offer a broader view of life and how medicine and the humanities work hand in hand. Duke echoed Dillion’s wishes for students after graduation and said she hopes medical humanities students gain a greater worldview.

“I hope they’ll be better prepared to deal with humanity as doctors, physician assistants, physical therapists — whatever they go into,” Duke said. “I think they’ll leave with a greater preparation to work with people, to understand people and to tell their stories.”

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Categories: Academics and University.