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The Almost Right Word: The Move From Medical to Health Humanities

Jones, Therese PhD; Blackie, Michael PhD; Garden, Rebecca PhD; Wear, Delese PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001518

Since the emergence of the field in the 1970s, several trends have begun to challenge the original assumptions, claims, and practices of what became known as the medical humanities. In this article, the authors make the case for the health humanities as a more encompassing label because it captures recent theoretical and pedagogical developments in higher education such as the shift from rigid disciplinary boundaries to multi- and interdisciplinary inquiry, which has transformed humanities curricula in health professions. Calling the area of study health humanities also underscores the crucial distinction between medicine and health. Following a brief history of the field and the rationales that brought humanities disciplines to medical education in the first place—the “why” of the medical humanities—the authors turn to the “why” of the health humanities, using disability studies to illuminate those methodologies and materials that represent the distinction between the two. In addition, the authors make note of how humanities inquiry has now expanded across the landscape of other health professions curricula; how there is both awareness and evidence that medicine is only a minor determinant of health in human populations alongside social and cultural factors; and finally, how the current movement in health professions education is towards interdisciplinary and interprofessional learning experiences for students.

T. Jones is associate professor, Department of Medicine, and associate director, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, Colorado.

M. Blackie is associate professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown, Ohio.

R. Garden is associate professor, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York.

D. Wear is professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown, Ohio.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Therese Jones, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, Campus Box B137, 13080 E. 19th Ave., Aurora, CO 80045; telephone: (303) 724-3995; e-mail:

© 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges