Minding the Gap: One Institution’s Strategy for Infusing Health Humanities into Multiple Academic Programs across a Graduate Health Science University

Part Two of a Two-Part Blog Series

by Lisa Kerr, PhD; Dusti Annan-Coultas, EdD; Jane Ariail, PhD; Jennifer Bailey, MEd; Caroline DeLongchamps; Cindy Dodds, PT, PhD, PCS; Brooke Fox, MS, CA; Jeanne G. Hill, MD; Kimberly Kascak, MEd; Steve Kubalak, PhD; Michael Madson, PhD; Ben Reynolds, PhD; Bob Sade, MD; Tabitha Samuel, MLIS; Thomas G. Smith, PhD.

Corresponding author: Lisa Kerr <kerli@musc.edu>, Medical University of South Carolina

The mission of the Office of Humanities at the Medical University of South Carolina is to promote teaching, scholarship, and research in the health humanities. Director of the Office, Lisa Kerr, partners with multiple groups and individuals across the institution to accomplish these goals.


Can a centralized Office of Humanities foster programs in the health humanities across a graduate health science university? In the first part of this two-part blog series, we argued that the answer is “yes” and provided an overview of the initiatives our Office of Humanities leads. However, our Office is only successful because of the partnerships we’ve built across our university and hospital system. In Part Two of this series, we describe health humanities initiatives led by other groups on our campus, helping us reach health science students outside of medicine, who typically have less access to humanities education as part of their professional training.


Writing Center

Writing Centers are rarely, if ever, discussed in the context of the health humanities. At MUSC, however, our writing faculty members teach daily the skills associated with humanistic inquiry and narrative competency: critical thinking, organization of ideas, attention to detail, awareness of audience, perspective taking, rhetoric, and persuasion. In this way, since 1994 the Writing Center at MUSC has contributed to the health humanities education of our students by fostering in them skills associated with effective written and oral communication. While the majority of Writing Center teaching occurs in one-on-one appointments, writing faculty also offer workshops to teach students to write in various professional genres. In these sessions, faculty teach the importance of knowing one’s audience and purpose in any rhetorical situation.

One Writing Center faculty member also led the development of two courses related to the humanities, both of which are now required in their respective degree programs. The first is “Science Writing as Persuasion: Audience, Genre, and Style,” for doctoral students in the biomedical sciences. The second is “Academic and Scientific Writing” for undergraduates in health care studies. Grounded in the humanistic traditions of classical and modern rhetoric, the two courses cultivate sensitivity to language in diverse settings, appreciation for colleagues across the health care professions, and empathy for a document’s intended readers.

While these faculty members’ daily teaching obligations involve direct instruction in science and health professional writing, their humanities training leads them down scholarly paths that illustrate the potential of humanities to promote and assess cultural changes in health care and health professional identity. One faculty member with expertise in the rhetoric of signs and wayfinding collaborates to assess and improve the patient experience within the health system. Another faculty member has conducted a 12-year study on the way texts reflect community values and has identified an increasing focus on interprofessionalism in student personal statements. By collaborating with others and presenting on their work, these faculty members and others demonstrate how humanities-trained professionals can contribute in a practical way to effect positive change.


Patient- and Family-Centered Care Workshops and Classes

The Office of Humanities collaborates with the manager of MUSC Health’s Patient- and Family-Centered Care (PFCC) and “family faculty” to bring patient narratives into student education. These “family faculty” attend writing workshops designed to prepare them to tell a five- to seven-minute story about their experience as a patient or family member at MUSC, with a goal of raising awareness about the value of patient- and family-centered care and its relationship to quality and safety. Patients and family members who complete this training are invited to participate in teaching MUSC students about compassionate care by sharing their stories. During these classroom sessions, family faculty members read their stories aloud, and then we host an open discussion guided by student questions. To date, these sessions have been conducted with approximately 700 students across seven college programs.


Office of Interprofessional Initiatives

A national leader in interprofessional education, MUSC’s Office of Interprofessional Initiatives manages the registration and assessment of a series of longitudinal, elective interprofessional (IP) courses. A number of these courses are cross-listed on the Office of Humanities’ website. One example is a course called “Eye Spy for Development of Affective Qualities in Interprofessional Health Care Students,” a collaboration between MUSC and the Gibbes Museum of Art that receives funding from the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute. Led by a faculty member from the Physical Therapy program, the course targets improving students’ affective domain qualities, specifically observation skills, verbal, nonverbal, and written communication and interprofessional readiness. Preliminary findings from research being conducted on the course indicate improved affective domain qualities in these health science students.

In addition to coordinating elective humanities courses, the Office of Interprofessional Initiatives leads a major initiative annually called Interprofessional Day, a day designed to develop among students a culture of collaborative teamwork with a long-term goal of improving patient care and safety (MUSC, 2019a). Over 1500 first- and second-year students from across the six colleges participate in small-group activities facilitated by MUSC faculty and staff. First-year students engage in a communication activity centered on the use of the text Zoom in which interprofessional teams must place pictures in the correct order to tell a story, all without looking at other team members’ cards. Students debrief on the communication process and skills used, including the role of perception, listening and receiving, and understanding. Next, students play the Sloppy Mountain Medical Center computer-based escape game in interprofessional groups which is set to have the same benefits as the gambling games form daftar slot online. Players work together to discharge patients from the team’s medical center, which requires that they communicate clearly, collaborate effectively, and plan efficiently.

Second-year students participate in a role play exercise, disclosing a medical error to a standardized patient family member who has been trained to act with different emotions during three different sessions of role play. Within the session, the error is disclosed three times, with the standardized patient family member acting alternatively relieved, angry, and sad with each role play. Students are not informed that the actor will change emotions for each session, and they must subsequently navigate a real-life range of emotional responses with informing a family member of a medical error.


Waring Historical Library Student Programs

The Waring Library is one of the longest-standing representatives of the health humanities at MUSC. “The Waring,” hosts numerous programs and events to promote the history of the health sciences. Its “Friends of the Library” group, the Waring Library Society, sponsors these events, which include two public lectures that are free and open to the public and feature speakers who are prominent in their fields. The Society also sponsors the Student Medical History Club, which is open to students from all six colleges at MUSC. Students who join the club meet monthly at noon for lunch and a brief informal talk on some aspect of medical history.

Waring faculty direct the IP course “Topics in the History of the Health Sciences,” a class held in the spring semester each year. This course is open to students of all colleges at MUSC, as well as at the nearby undergraduate institution, the College of Charleston. In addition, the Waring’s “Senior Rotation” provides an opportunity for senior MUSC students to spend several weeks researching and writing a paper on a topic of interest in the history of medicine under the supervision of the Director of the Waring Historical Library.

Finally, the Waring hosts two paper competitions open to all MUSC students. The W. Curtis Worthington Research Paper Competition was established to encourage students to conduct history of medicine scholarship. The Dr. Patricia L. Blanton History of Dentistry Essay Contest is open to any degree-seeking student of the MUSC College of Dental Medicine.

In the US, you’d be required to undertake a four-year dentistry undergraduate degree, followed by an additional four years of dental school, and another four to six years of clinical and academic training at an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency – that’s a total of 12 to 14 years of dedicated studying. For those of you wondering if the dental implants industry is being swept up in innovation the answer is definitely YES! The number of new inventions and discoveries is astounding and really reminds me of how dental implants changed the oral surgery world when they came out.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We believe that a key strategy for addressing the gap in humanities programming for health science students is leveraging an existing network and then educating additional faculty, staff, and students about the health humanities. Through our programs, we have not only provided multiple educational humanities opportunities to our students but also broadened institutional perceptions of what the health humanities are and how they contribute to inquiry-based education. We proactively attach the term “health humanities” to our initiatives, especially those that our institution’s members may not intuitively recognize as part of this field of study. By doing so, we aim to show that the humanities have practical applications in health science education and are a critical part of preparing students to deliver the highest quality care. To this end, we continue to build a network of collaborators who understand the broad applications of the health humanities and become its champions across our institution. As this network grows, we aspire to make the health humanities increasingly integral to our university’s mission and vision.



Medical University of South Carolina. (2019). Waring Historical Library: Paper competitions. https://musc.libguides.com/waring/about/events/papercompetitions. Accessed 15 August  2019.

National Organization for Arts in Health. (2017). Arts, health, and wellbeing America. https://thenoah.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NOAH 2017-WhitePaper-Online  Edition.pdf. Accessed 20 August 2019.

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