How Health Humanities Will Save the Life of the Humanities

J Med Humanit. 2017 Dec;38(4):419-430. doi: 10.1007/s10912-017-9453-5.


In the last decade, the humanities have been shrinking in number of students, percent of faculty, and in number of degrees awarded. Humanities students also earn lower salaries than their STEM-prepared peers. At the same time, the health humanities have been in ascendance over the last fifteen years. The number of majors, minors and certificates has increased 266% in that time frame, attracting large numbers of students and preparing future patients, lay caregivers, and health care providers to interact with a complicated and dehumanized medical system. In 1982, British philosopher and educator Stephen Toulmin declared that medicine saved philosophy from irrelevance and possibly extinction. I propose that the health humanities can serve a similar function to stave off the decline of the broader humanities. The health humanities can (1) model an applied approach for the broader humanities to attract student interest; (2) develop students' capacity for critical reading, writing and reflection about health and medicine in society, practice, and their own lives and (3) inoculate all students against the influence of medicine, whether through preparing pre-health students to navigate the hidden medical curriculum or preparing future patients to navigate the health care system.

Keywords: Education; Medical humanities; Pre-health humanities.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humanities / education*
  • Humans