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Welcome to the University of Calgary Humanities in Health Care website

“[L]iterature can offer a … practice in the negotiation of meanings.”

— Catherine Belling [1]

“Eventually, and I think soon, we can seek outcomes of humanities or narrative teaching not at the level of career choice or perceived “wellness” of young students, but in the HbA1c of learners’ diabetic patients, the success of their patients to achieve the health goals (be it weight, smoking status, or LDL) they set for themselves, the power experienced by their patients with advanced disease to participate in health care decisions, or the ability of their patients to choose the forms of their own deaths.”

— Rita Charon [2]


Humanities scholarship, as applied in a health care setting, often has as its goal the increased empathy and professionalism of learners and practitioners. How to measure this remains a Holy Grail of medical humanities research and curriculum development. As at many other medical schools, the University of Calgary’s approach to medical humanities historically has been what might be described as experiential; that is, we have sought to provide learners with opportunities — largely elective — for guided reflection on illness, medical enculturation, and meaning making. Examples of such opportunities include:

  • A well-established annual History of Medicine symposium;
  • Interpretation of native art to better understand Canadian aboriginal culture;
  • Reflective writing exercises on home visits to elderly persons;
  • Writing rap songs to explain the science of obesity to young people;
  • Listening to passages from the book Still Alice as a description of the family experience of dementia; and
  • Watching the film The Doctor to help examine popular culture’s perception of physicians.

Recent Initiatives

Understanding that in order for the humanities to have their greatest impact on professional development, they must be offered in a consistent and longitudinal fashion, we have increasingly moved toward integrating history, literature, creative writing and the visual and performing arts, into our full curriculum.  We are doing this by developing:

  • Closer ties with the humanities scholars at our university through the creation of this interdisciplinary committee on humanities in healthcare that has student representation;
  • A community of humanities in health care scholars through a regular journal club;
  • An elective in humanities in healthcare (to date, students have focused on topics in narrative medicine);
  • An annual humanities in health care symposium;
  • Ideas for injecting small doses of humanities into our core Problem-Based Learning medical curriculum;
  • Approaches to evaluating outcomes and competencies in health care humanities; and
  • Ideas for offering advanced training in medical humanities to health care learners at the certificate or graduate degree level.

You will find more details on our activities in the following pages. We welcome your input.


[1] Belling, C. “Toward a Harder Humanities in Medicine”. 2006 Atrium: Issue 3:1-6.  http://bioethics.northwestern.edu/atrium/pdf/atrium-issue3.pdf

[2] Charon, R. “Calculating the Contributions of Humanities to Medical Practice—Motives, Methods, and Metrics”. Academic Medicine 2010; 85:935–937

 

 

 

 

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News & Events

Date & Time:
April 28, 2017 - April 29, 2017