The Medical Humanities program at Rice is invested in bringing humanistic research on health to publics in and outside the medical field. Medicine, and our broader conceptions of health, are important domains of inquiry and discussion for both healthcare professionals, patients, and people who aren't currently patients (but all of us likely will be some day). The medical humanities' public mission can be an important bridge between these different population, providing physicians with new perspectives on their profession; patients with tools for understanding the systemic character of health, disease, and healthcare institutions; and the public as a whole with frameworks to facilitate debate, discussion, and interpretation.
Two podcasts released this Spring showcase the public-intellectual work of medical humanists at Rice. The first is an interview-based audio essay on Disorders of Consciousness, researched and produced by Julia Jung, a student in the HRC's undergraduate research practica program, who worked at the Institute for Spirituality and Health in the Fall semester. This topic area grows out of the Institute's research into end-of-life treatment and doctor-patient-family conversations, which Rice medical humanities students have assisted with in the past.
Julia spent the semester helping the ISH team to explore how spiritual discourses are operative in patients' families' expressions of what is happening to their non-responsive loved ones, and how a better understanding of these frameworks might facilitate medical conversations about what is important and what is possible. Addressing this problem with communication and understanding is crucial: misdiagnosis and substandard care are systemic issues for patients with disorders of consciousness, as Julia points out. Fusing metaphor theory with the latest understanding of the medical phenomenon, and interviewing physicians and scholars of religion, she offers some new ways for doctors and families to think through and talk about this problem. The audio essay is featured on the ISH's Spirit Matters podcast.
The second is an interview of Kirsten Ostherr, director of Medical Humanities at Rice as well as the Medical Futures Lab, given to the media and design podcast, Medea Vox. The interview's occassion was Dr. Ostherr's paper, delivered at the K3 research seminar at the School of Arts and Communication at Malmö University in Sweden, titled "Where is the Human in Digital Health Technology? Experiments at the Medical Futures Lab."