UW-Madison: New certificate brings humanities into health care studies

CONTACT: Nicole Nelson, (608) 263 1778, [email protected]

Last spring in a Biology and Society course, Makenzie Wydra had an aha moment. Health, she realized, isn’t just the way diseases form and how the body responds to medicines and treatments. It’s so much more, from the way notions of health have developed over time to how individuals and groups experience health care.

The class, taught by assistant professor of history Nicole Nelson, explores the history of biotechnologies, ethics and how scientific developments both shape and are shaped by society. It was exciting to Wydra, who had already taken several science courses as a biology major planning a career in nursing.

“All the rest of my classes were formulas and memorization,” says Wydra, now a junior. “This introduced how things happened. It was a brief overview but it made me want to learn more.”

She is now getting that chance, as one of the first students admitted to a new certificate program that examines historical, cultural and philosophical ways people make decisions about health care.

The Health and the Humanities Certificate is a five-course, 15-credit program designed to give students a fuller and more nuanced understanding of health that complements study in the biosciences.

It stems from a problem Dija Selmi and Susan Nelson noticed a few years back while working at the Center for Pre-Health Advising, which sees about 3,000 students a year and helps about 500 apply to medical school annually. The advisors saw that students were excelling academically and gaining strong experience in labs, yet they weren’t well-versed in the bigger picture of health care.

And they weren’t ideally prepared for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, which in 2015 was revamped to include sections on social and behavioral determinants of health and critical and analytical reasoning skills.

The advisors knew the university had a variety of classes on health – in departments ranging from Gender and Women’s Studies to anthropology, and history to English – and worked to bring faculty from those disciplines together to create the certificate program.

Certificate director Nicole Nelson says courses that count toward the certificate make students aware of the cultural, religious and other backgrounds that people bring with them when they interact with the health care system – and that gaining an understanding of these perspectives gives them a competitive edge.

“There’s a trend toward medical schools nationally seeking out students who are more well-rounded,” Nelson says, adding that the health care industry has increasingly focused on interpersonal aspects of the field as well.

READ THE FULL STORY: http://ls.wisc.edu/news/better-health-through-the-humanities


– Katie Vaughn