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New minor to explore healthcare system, supplement technological courses

| Monday, May 10, 2021

The College of Arts and Letters will offer a new minor program — health, humanities and society — beginning in fall 2021. The minor will explore the social and historical nature of American medicine and healthcare and how it relates to being a physician or patient.

Anna Geltzer, assistant director of the University’s Reilly Center, said the development of the minor has been in the works for years, and hopes to have health, humanities and society ultimately become an academic major.

Geltzer explained that many students had been discussing the need for a curriculum that focused on the cultural aspects of medicine to supplement the technical aspects that were already being taught.

“You really do need to prepare people for understanding the context of the practice as well as the practice itself,” Geltzer said.

Vania Smith-Oka, professor of anthropology, will serve as director of the minor. In her previous work and courses, she has explored how doctors are trained.

The minor includes two core courses: American Healthcare in Perspective and Contemporary Concerns in Medicine, a seminar course. Geltzer, who is teaching American Healthcare in Perspective this fall, said talking about the context around healthcare is important for those attending medical school.

“Understanding the history of the system and the system the context and comparative perspective is really, really crucial because the system is what shapes your experience as a physician, the same way that it shapes your experience as a patient,” Geltzer said.

The second seminar course will explore a variety of topics from “anti-vaxxers,” the opioid crisis and race and health, among current topics, Smith-Oka said.

“Each time a different professor will be teaching it, and they’ll be bringing their own perspectives,” Smith-Oka said.

The minor organizers found other elective courses for health, humanities and society by researching courses offered by other departments that fit with the holistic theme of the minor, Smith-Oka said. Roughly 30 courses were found and cross-listed with the minor.

While students on the pre-med track will be the primary students who will be interested in the minor, Smith-Oka said she believes the minor will be appealing to students wanting to pursue careers in health management and medical technology. In addition, she said they have already seen interest from students interested in global health.

“So we’ve got classes lined up that have to do with development or global health that should hopefully also appeal to that type of student,” Smith-Oka said.

Geltzer also noted that the minor can appeal to students who are simply intrigued by how the healthcare system impacts society and individuals.

“We are all, in one way or another, the product of the medical system,” Geltzer said. “That’s where we get our ideas of what’s normal and what’s pathological and what’s healthy, and we all come in contact with the system at various points.”

Ultimately, Smith-Oka said she hopes the curriculum helps students connect the dots between the physical, scientific elements of health and the social implications.

“Even though health might be represented on the body as something physical or organic, ultimately, health is something social that lies in what your background is, what your lived experiences [are], and I hope that students will take a lot of this with them,” Smith-Oka said.

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a junior pursuing a major in history with minors in digital marketing and journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

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