Category: Children's Health, Health Magazine

Title:New minor unites medicine and the humanities

Author: Patti North
Date Published: November 8, 2021

Fresh Dimensions for Cura Personalis

Krishnan leads the new Medical Humanities Initiative at Georgetown, now offering an interdisciplinary minor.
Krishnan leads the new Medical Humanities Initiative at Georgetown, now offering an interdisciplinary minor. Photo: Phil Humnicky

The Georgetown Medical Humanities Initiative, launched in 2019, extends classical humanities studies into the realm of disease and the art of healing. Courses are taught by faculty from the main and medical campuses, and are housed in a variety of departments including history, art and art history, anthropology, African American studies, performing arts, and women’s and gender studies. The initiative is designed to engage both undergraduate and medical students—two groups of students that typically do not have much structured interaction on campus, and the initiative also offers an event series, research mentorship, and fellowship program.

The success of the initiative led to the creation of a new interdisciplinary minor called Medical Humanities, Culture, and Society. Offered for the first time in fall of 2021, the minor requires three core courses and three electives, and provides students with a solid foundation in the field.

Founding Director Lakshmi Krishnan, MD, PhD, is assistant professor of medicine and affiliate joint faculty member in the English department. Krishnan is also an internist, medical historian, and a medical humanities scholar who has taught classes and published papers on pandemics and health disparities.

“Georgetown’s commitment to cura personalis makes it fertile terrain for medical humanities,” she says. “Health practitioners cannot treat ‘the whole patient’ without recognizing and valuing their humanity in its many facets.”

The objective is to give students broad exposure to interdisciplinary humanities and a kind of toolkit they can draw upon as professionals. Those who have an affinity for art, for example, may develop the ability to more closely observe and detect nuance from a patient. Students with a closer connection to literature may be more adept at critical analysis, forming a more comprehensive patient narrative to support diagnosis.

Health practitioners cannot treat ‘the whole patient’ without recognizing and valuing their humanity in its many facets.

Krishnan’s aspirations for the program include not only developing better health care professionals, but helping students envision careers outside the realm of traditional practitioner—public health, for example.

“Broadening the study of the human condition to dimensions beyond STEM subjects is long overdue,” says Krishnan. “We’re now in the middle of a sea change, especially in medicine. We’ve realized, at our peril, that we’ve often overlooked how culture and society affect the implementation of various medical practices.”

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