Medical Humanities Minor

What is medical humanities?

Medical humanities is an exciting new transdisciplinary program at Rice that brings together faculty and students from all parts of campus to explore the human dimensions of health and illness. At Rice, we think of medical humanities as a field of study that explores how biomedical concepts of disease interact with historical, cultural, social, religious, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of human experience. Many of our students are pre-med, but the program welcomes all students. We believe that scholarly learning, critical reflection, and debate about medicine and health never have been - and never should be - restricted to doctors or aspiring doctors alone. Questions of what constitutes health, why we value it, who benefits when these values are put into practice, and who is harmed by health disparities are open matters of concern for everyone.

Notable research areas for Medical Humanities faculty at Rice include death and dying; biological standards of living, climate, and disease; gender, sexuality, and disability; medicalization of reproduction and obstetric technologies; injury among military veterans; racial and ethnic health disparities; medicine and media; social and ethical aspects of digital health technologies and data privacy; anatomical museums and medical display; and digital medical humanities. Our research and teaching aims to expand access, diversity, and inclusiveness in the health professions through our program outcomes focused on health disparities and disability.

Activities and Outreach

With the support of the Humanities Research Center (HRC) and other sponsors, the medical humanities program hosts annual conferences and workshops, including Critical Care: Disability Interventions and Medical Humanities, organized by Dr. Zoë Wool in spring 2017, and Health/Design: Solving Complex Problems in Healthcare with Human-Centered Design, organized by Dr. Kirsten Ostherr in spring 2018.

We work closely with our thriving undergraduate student group, which meets regularly throughout the year, hosting lunch discussions about current events, coffee chat journal clubs, pizza-movie nights, research competitions, and an annual student-organized symposium. The medical humanities minor brings Rice students into the Houston community and creates stronger ties with the TMC campus through our practica and our multi-institution master class taught with area medical and public health faculty and clinicians.

Structure of the Minor

The minor in medical humanities (MDHM) was launched in Fall 2016 and has grown rapidly since then, offering new courses, symposia, and practicum opportunities. The structure of the Medical Humanities (MDHM) minor includes:

  • a required core course (MDHM 201, “Introduction to Medical Humanities”)
  • four electives drawn from at least two different departments
  • a semester-long practicum

Details on current and past electives are available on the HRC website, and MDHM information from the General Announcements is here. Students pursue this minor under the supervision of the program director, Dr. Kirsten Ostherr, and other core faculty members in English, History, Art History, Religion, Anthropology, and the HRC.

Benefits of Minoring in Medical Humanities

A degree in medical humanities is of benefit to any student who wishes to gain a deeper understanding of how historical and contemporary ideas about health and disease shape our lived experiences in the world, both when we are sick and when we are well. In addition, the degree is of immediate practical benefit to Rice’s pre-med students. The MCAT was recently revised to include more problem-solving, critical thinking, social scientific and humanistic assessment of candidates applying to medical school. Admissions committees have recognized that students with strong humanistic training are better equipped to deal with the complex human dimensions of medical practice in the 21st century. A notation of a Medical Humanities minor on a transcript serves as a clear signal that students moving on to medical school will arrive with a holistic understanding of the human dimensions of medical practice, as well as strong critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and oral and written communication skills.


Medical Humanities Minor Steering Committee

Melissa Bailar

Marcia Brennan

Eugenia Georges

Moramay López-Alonso

Kirsten Ostherr (Committee Chair)

Zoë Wool

Last updated August 3, 2018

(Via AAMC.org)

(Via AAMC.org)