An MLA network for scholars engaged in the study of representations of health, illness, and health professions.

Pre-Health Students and the Study of Literature

3 replies, 3 voices Last updated by  Kathryn J. McKnight 2 years, 7 months ago
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    Kathryn J. McKnight

    Dear Colleagues,

    I just found this group and am thrilled you are here!

    I am very interested in connecting with anyone who is engaged in transforming their undergraduate teaching of literature (and cultural studies) in ways that explicitly engage students with the arguments for the humanities in medical education. To be direct, many of our pre-health students do not see the value of literature courses. We have a small but robust offering of medical Spanish courses that has apparently been moving many students to convert a Spanish minor into a Spanish second major. It is students from this group who expressed on a survey we just carried out the irrelevance of literary studies to their career path.

    As a result, I am just beginning to focus my reading and research on questions of how to transform my courses and our curriculum so that pre-health (and all pre-professional) students understand how literary/cultural studies relate to (medical) professionalization. I am interesting in studying whether awareness of this linkage would have a positive impact on their engagement in learning critical textual analysis as well as whether it would encourage them to enroll in additional literature/culture classes. I am also thinking about how to combine the best of what humanists see as the value of literary/cultural studies with what medical educators see as the value of literary study for medical students and professionals. Very specifically, I am looking at transforming our Introduction to Hispanic Literature class, which is a third-year introduction to textual analysis.

    Is there anyone else out there working on these questions?

    My teaching context: I teach Spanish American literature at the U. of New Mexico (Albuquerque), a majority minority institution, where a majority of our majors are heritage or native speakers of Spanish. We have a much larger population of second majors (a 24-credit program) than majors (30 credits & a third language) and where about half of our second majors have as their first major a health science (biology, biochemistry, chemistry, nursing, psychology, among others).

    Thank you so much!


    Rosemary Ila Weatherston

    Hi Kathryn,

    I have been looking at similar questions in my own courses and research and have found some success adapting required general education literature courses for undergraduate health professions students. These modified courses draw on the discipline of narrative medicine for their framework and combine a general study of fiction and literary criticism with the study of works representing experiences of illness, care taking, and practitioner/patient relationships. A lot of the assignments and in-class discussion speak directly to the “use value” of literary studies in  the health professions and students have responded positively to this focus. I would be happy to share any resources or ideas with you that you think might be helpful for your particular courses and goals. Just let me know if this would be of interest.


    Erin Lamb

    Hi Kathryn and Rosemary,

    Kathryn, I’m intrigued by your inquiry: “I am interesting in studying whether awareness of this linkage would have a positive impact on their engagement in learning critical textual analysis as well as whether it would encourage them to enroll in additional literature/culture classes.” I don’t know anyone else who is asking this question.  I think there is a keen interest in assessment in the health humanities at the baccalaureate level right now, but the focus is primarily on trying to “prove” that undergraduate health humanities study makes “better” health care providers (more compassionate, culturally- or structurally-competent, whatever it may be).  The benefits of such study in terms of attracting more students to literature is a very different but equally interesting line of inquiry.

    I’m co-editing a special issue of the Journal of Medical Humanities at the moment on “Pre-Health Humanities,” and included within it are several articles speaking to that question of what such coursework does for future health care professionals, how such coursework bolsters the humanities more generally, and also some that speak to including a health humanities focus within first-year composition courses, research practices, and service learning.  Nothing speaking specifically to literature courses, but it may be of interest (I’m not sure just when it will be coming out, possibly Dec. 2016, most likely in 2017).

    Some of my own research lately has been looking into the formalization of health humanities programs at the baccalaureate level, and almost all of these programs include a literature course as requirement or elective. If you end up moving in the direction of building a health humanities minor (many schools have been mounting them recently), this research might be of use:

    Wishing you both well!



    Kathryn J. McKnight

    Dear Rosemary and Erin,

    Thank you both! Your posts are so helpful. Erin, I have downloaded the report on Baccalaureate Health Humanities programs and I look forward to the special issue. Rosemary, yes, I would love to see materials. I will email you separately.

    Thank you,


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