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In their words: Scholarly Concentration Q&A with Medical Humanities co-directors

In their words: Scholarly Concentration Q&A with Medical Humanities co-directors

In 2019, IU School of Medicine launched Scholarly Concentrations. To help students decide if a concentration topic is the right fit, concentration co-directors shared the inside scoop—from why they got involved in the concentration to how a specific topic can help students reach their goals.

Topic: Medical Humanities
Location: Statewide (based in Indianapolis)
Co-Directors: Emily Beckman, DMH and Jane Hartsock, JD, MA

Introduce yourself. Who are you and why did you decide to become involved in this Scholarly Concentration topic?

Emily Beckman, DMH: As Director of the Medical Humanities and Health Studies Program at IUPUI with an appointment in the Department of Medicine, I have been working on merging the humanities and medicine for many years. More specifically, I recognize the need for a broader understanding of medicine, and incorporating the humanities –literature, history and ethics –into its study and practice produces not only better doctors, but also a more humane, accessible and inclusive healthcare system. And I love to read, and reading makes better doctors.

Jane Hartsock, JD, MA: As I consider the demands in store for 21st Century physicians, it is evident they will need a contextual understanding of the big questions of human experience. Why do we practice (and learn) medicine the way we do? Why do some patients resonate with me and I remember their stories forever, while others seem to fade as soon as they’ve left my office? Is there value in human suffering? How do I grieve or celebrate with my patient, without losing myself in their experience? I believe the answers to these questions lie in the Humanities –in the stories that emerge from and shape human history. Engaging this part of the human conversation is good for patients and physicians, alike.

Tell us about your experience related to the concentrated topic.

Beckman: I have a doctorate in Medical Humanities, and have devoted the last 20 years to carefully examining the role of humanities in medicine. I have developed and taught humanities –based courses for 4th year medical students, in addition to the undergraduate pre-health curriculum in Medical Humanities. I’ve found (and studies show) that while students are sometimes hesitant to engage in humanities-based learning, they are almost always glad they did as it decreases burnout, improves empathy and promotes trust in the doctor-patient relationship.

Hartsock: I am the Director of Clinical Ethics for the Academic Health Center at IU Health and an Adjunct Assistant Professor with the Medical Humanities and Health Studies Program at IUPUI. Before that, I spent more than ten years as a trial attorney practicing health law.I live in the space that is the “clinical encounter” and have spent close to 20 years engaging in close examination of that space. However, my lens for viewing medicine is shaped by my undergraduate education in English and Writing, along with my graduate education in Philosophy, Bioethics, and Law. I have taught students of all ages from freshmen in college to adult learners completing a Fellowship in Clinical Medical Ethics. I am so pleased to be part of the growing Medical Humanities presence in our Medical School.

What are you most excited about in regards to Scholarly Concentrations and/ or your concentrated topic.

Beckman: I am most excited to introduce students to great literature, including memoirs, novels, essays and poetry. We know that by critically engaging with literary texts, particularly fiction, we become more empathetic individuals. Students pursuing the Medical Humanities concentration will not only have the opportunity to read and discuss, but also to actually become more empathetic human beings able to provide better care to their patients.

Hartsock: I love to teach. My job as Clinical Director can be quite “heavy” and I find that teaching is restorative. One of the reasons for this, is the enormous satisfaction that comes from watching my students connect with stories that move them and a history that provides context and, thus a richer experience of medicine. When students then take these stories and history and apply them to the Bioethics issues that shape their profession, they become complete physicians. This process is extraordinarily rewarding to observe and guide. It is one of the great joys of my professional life.Concentration Questions(Provide one set of responses for your concentration)What are the two or three most important or interesting things students should know about this concentration?This concentration is interdisciplinary –we will consider the history of medicine, bioethical issues in medicine, and we will read and discuss literary texts. We will not study science within this concentration, but rather how history, bioethics and literature inform and enrich science and the practice of medicine.We will consider what it means to be a human being who is sick, and examine our response.

How is this concentration beneficial to a student’s personal and professional goals?

Humanities courses raise questions of how human beings deal with health, medical intervention, illness and death. Social science courses provide insight into the social, economic and cultural contexts of health, illness and health care.

Some student’s may have a hard time deciding which concentration to choose. How can a student decided if this topic is the best fit for them?

This concentration is a good fit for students who love to read and who seek a deeper understanding of their profession. Students who enjoy critical examination, question assumptions, and seek to understand their purpose and place in a complex health care industry will find this concentration very rewarding.

What are the special resources and/ or expertise on this concentration’s home campus?

The Medical Humanities and Health Studies (MHHS) Program in the School of Liberal Artson the Indianapolis campus is recognized both nationally and internationally as a significant contributor to the field. In existence for over 20 years, the MHHS program has developed interdisciplinary collaborations within Liberal Arts and other health-professions schools on campus, around the state and beyond. Students in the Medical Humanities concentration will benefit from these deeply rooted relationships, and the resources they provide, including strong teaching and research interests in the area of health care.

What is the academic and social culture like on the home campus?

IUPUI is Indiana’s urban research and academic health sciences campus, and its mission emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration, diverse perspectives, and the pursuit of best practices. The interdisciplinary design of this concentration enhances medical education building upon already established collaborations across the campus.

You provided some examples of potential projects for this concentration. Can you also provide some more details and examples of what one or two different projects could look like?

Beckman: “Deinstitutionalization in Central Indiana: A Narrative Approach” is a scholarly project that brings together experts in medical humanities and public history to investigate mental health history and assess the transition from state-run psychiatric institutions to community care for the mentally ill. The closure of Indiana’s flagship mental institution, Central State Hospital (CSH) in 1994, provides a case study for exploring how mental health policy was experienced “on the ground” for both patients and mental health professionals, including doctors, administrators, nurses, psychologists, social workers and rehabilitation therapists. By the 1970s, rehabilitation, or the preparation of patients to be discharged and lead independent lives in the community, had become an integral part of CSH’s philosophy and operations. Rehabilitation therapists came to play key roles in patients’ lives, especially for patients with disabilities. The 1992 decision to close the hospital by 1994 accelerated the hospital’s rehabilitative function, even as the hospital itself had been deemed obsolete. We take a narrative approach, using oral history interviews and archival documents to reconstruct daily life and therapeutics at CSH, the process of deinstitutionalization as it unfolded, and the memory of that transition among participants and the broader community today. Driving this project is a seriesof writings by patients at CSH dating from the 1980s and 1990s, located in the Indiana Medical History Museum (IMHM) archives, which provide a rare opportunity to explore how the process of deinstitutionalization was described, as it unfolded, by those who lived it. Collaborators on this project work to collect, transcribe, and analyze oral history interviews from former CSH patients and staff; and conduct in-depth analysis of CSH records and materials located, and largely untapped, in the Indiana State Archives.

Hartsock: “Ethical Communication of Complex Testing Results” is a collaboration between the IUH Department of Clinical Ethics, the IU Center for Bioethics, the Department of Genetic Counseling, and the IUPUI Department of Communication Studies. The increasing emphasis on personalized medicine has led to an increase in the complexity of results that patients receive back from physicians. Patients are often responsible for digesting incredibly complicated information about their health that has implications for future plans of care for themselves, and frequently for their children or other family members. This project relies on empirically supported communication theory to improve adequate understanding of patients’ testing results in a manner that augments the informed consent process, improves adherence to follow up treatment plans and provides patients an empathetic connection with their clinicians.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

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IU School of Medicine

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