ASU series explores role of humanities in health care

student receiving a physical exam at ASU Health Services

How does our understanding of the relationships between our bodies, our minds and our environments influence our attitudes regarding health care?

What stories do we tell about health, and what do these stories tell us about its past, present and future?

Medical humanities, a growing, interdisciplinary field of study, brings insights about being human that are explored in fields from the humanities disciplines to modern medicine and health care, to find answers to the aforementioned questions and to improve and provide a human focus for American health care.

To kickstart conversations regarding the role of humanities in health-related fields and inform future collaborations, Arizona State University’s Institute for Humanities Research, in partnership with Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine, is launching a series of presentations and discussions called “Imagining Health.”

According to Cora Fox, associate professor of English at ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who is leading the medical humanities initiative at the Institute for Humanities Research, humanities and arts have always been part of health care. A growing body of evidence from diverse fields points toward the importance of incorporating them into medical training and patient care programs, thus enhancing patient outcomes, wellness and quality of life.

“When we make decisions about health care, we confront the most basic questions of human existence about life’s meaning, our own mortality, the meaning in pain and suffering, and our connections to others surviving crises of the body,” said Fox. “Our confrontations with these questions often lead us to the arts or literature, finding and sharing a moving book or poem to try to distill our experiences with illness or death. Our responses can be examined and framed through fields like history, ethics and philosophy.”

The series of events will begin with the discussion “Imagining Disease: Horror and Health in Medicine.” Catherine Belling, associate professor in medical education, medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, will lead the event.

The discussion will take place on Feb. 19 inside the Ashley B. Taylor Auditorium at Mayo Scottsdale Clinic on Shea Boulevard.

ASU faculty members Tamara Underiner, associate dean for research at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and Seline Szkupinski-Quiroga, faculty research affiliate at the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at ASU’s Center for Population Dynamics, will lead the discussion “CENAS: How theatre can disrupt unhealthy habits” on March 19 in CP81C at Mayo Scottsdale Clinic.

According to Szkupinski-Quiroga, “While theater has been widely used in health education efforts, it is often treated as just a delivery mechanism. We are investigating the potential of creativity in the form of theater-making to truly make a long-lasting difference in changing people’s attitudes, behaviors and lifestyle choices. Theater lets people take risks and do things they never thought they’d be able to do.”

In addition, on April 16, Ben Hurlbut, assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences, will present “Accounting for Care,” a lecture that focuses on how accounts of care in the medical field are both descriptive and prescriptive: they represent medicine as it is, but also as it should be. Focusing in particular on precision biomedicine, he will explore how accounts of care are morally inflected and how they are changing.

All of these events are free and open to the public. To RSVP, click here.