Health, Humanities, and Society Minor

Students Reviewing Charts

This minor will serve the intellectual needs of any student interested in matters of health, whether they are interested in pursuing a career in the health professions or not. The focus is not vocational training. In this minor, health and medicine are lenses through which to analyze and understand a variety of contemporary issues. By integrating health, medicine, the humanities, and society we will provide students with an interdisciplinary approach and framework to understand the myriad ways of conceptualizing the body, the profound effects of illness and disease on people, the impacts of policies and structures on the lives and practices of health professionals, and the complex historical and social worlds in which they live and function. The goal is to broaden students’ views and encourage them to embrace new ways of thought and experience across the College of Arts and Letters.

Knowledge about health—whether from the perspective of the public health professional, doctor, policy maker, or patient—is not merely a collection of technical skills and academic knowledge. Medical practice, whether as physicians, physician assistants, nurses, physical or occupational therapy, etc. is always simultaneously technical, scientific, humanistic, and social, and students need to be prepared for all of these facets simultaneously. Successfully preparing our students to understand the complexity underlying matters of health or health care systems requires a systematic and strategic integration of the humanities and social sciences with the technical preparation and advising that students receive.

Whether they complete their degrees in the College of Arts and Letters or the College of Science, Notre Dame students are admitted to medical school at a rate that is twice the national average. However, the need for broadly trained and dedicated medical and health professionals has never been more urgent, as revealed by a global pandemic that has crippled economies and health systems across the world, including the developed “West.” Among the many lessons taught by the pandemic, the most crucial one is that the most difficult challenges facing medicine and health do not lie in the sciences, but in people, culture, and societies. As we are daily and even hourly reminded by media and government sources, it was indeed a challenge to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 in under a year. However, as most public health and medical professionals acknowledge, that was far easier compared to the complex psychological, social, political, cultural, and economic challenges of vaccine production, distribution, outreach, messaging, persuasion, and acceptance. As histories of medicine and society suggest, the solutions and approaches to these “human” challenges require understanding of historical precedent, ethical dilemmas, cultural nuance, social complexity, and political economy, and applying these lessons to social health in ways that are locally appropriate but also scalable and transferable. This is the goal of the Health, Humanities, and Society minor.

Whether you are a current student, a prospective student, a faculty member, or just passing through, we invite you to explore what this program has to offer, including the lectures and conferences, classes, and professionalization opportunities—including summer fellowships, mentorship opportunities, and support for research positions, lab placements, and internships.

Nick Schneeman

“Having that broad-based liberal arts foundation was a huge advantage. It has let me see medicine and health systems in a way that maybe my colleagues didn’t.” — Dr. Nick Schneeman ’80, physician and co-founder of Genevive (formerly Geriatric Services of Minnesota)

Brianna Aoyama

"My liberal arts education gave me a perspective that influences the way I interact with and treat patients. I was always one of the first in my medical school class to consider all the other non-medical reasons that my patient may be sick.”
— Dr. Brianna Aoyama ’12, Pediatrician, Providence, Rhode Island

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