As COVID-19 crept across continents, frontline health professionals used Facebook to share tips on opening airways in the absence of ventilators. Members of the public created hubs to connect across physical distance. It was the first moment in many people’s lifetime that the ability to interpret, understand, and follow public health messaging was clearly a matter of life and death.
Trent’s new Health & Medical Humanities option, a mini minor which can be added to virtually any Trent degree, brings these perspectives and experiences to the foreground and invites students to shine a light on how the arts influence and are influenced by our cultural views on health and wellness. Apart from one required course, students choose from a list of relevant courses across disciplines so they can tailor the option to their interests and career goals.
Perfect for students seeking careers in health care
Dr. Sally Chivers, professor of English and Gender & Women’s Studies, created the core course, “Health Humanities” (UNIV-2002H-W-F01) and was instrumental in the creation of the option.
“The Health & Medical Humanities option is perfect for students who want to have meaningful careers in health care professions and/or understand how health is central to daily life,” says Professor Chivers. Students will learn about arts-based approaches to health, what it takes to make good ethical decisions in a medical context, and the many cultural influences at play in our day-to-day lives.
Core course offers interactive online learning
The core course will be offered each year online, and its design has benefited from the input of Trent’s senior e-learning designer, Maureen Glynn. Ms. Glynn, who brings over a decade of experience in the field of online education, incorporated Universal Design for Learning Principles and open education values in every component of the course. As such, there are multiple modes for most learning materials (each video has a transcript, for example, and often a book form or other format) and there are no textbook or other additional course costs. Set up as a conversation between Prof. Chivers, experts in the field, and students, the course explores topics via readings, videos, comics, games, and other sources. It concludes with an online gallery exhibit of what students create along with reflections about what they’ve learned along the way.
Innovative learning and accessible format
Fourth-year Gzowski College student, Valentina Zuluaga Cuartas, shares that the core course has been her favourite class in her four years at Trent, noting: “In Health Humanities we touch on healthcare topics that I was never aware existed, such as storytelling, the different effects that diagnoses can have on individuals, the importance of putting yourself in other people's shoes, the importance of treating patients as humans with emotions and feelings, and the social and economic determinants of health. This is immensely important for any student to learn, as it makes us better patients, better people in the community, and hopefully, shapes those who are passionate about the healthcare system into better healthcare practitioners.” Ms. Zuluaga Cuartas is working towards a B.Sc. Honours in Psychology and aspires to become a physician.
Five learning modules make up the Health Humanities course: Public Health Humanities; Diagnosis, Cure and Perspective; Digital Storytelling and Narrative Humility; Health and Social Justice; ending with a focus on aging studies – a field that has drawn global recognition at Trent through the research and activities of the Trent Centre for Aging & Society, of which Prof. Chivers is a founding executive member and past director.
“Many students who do embark on careers in caring professions will find themselves working with older people primarily if not exclusively,” predicts Prof. Chivers. “The Reimagining Age and Care module prepares them to do that effectively and creatively, noticing and developing every possibility for dignity and joy for themselves and for the people they work with.”
Health is relevant to everybody and as such this option and core course could make a great fit for any Trent student, however they are especially designed for students embarking on careers in caring professions, including medicine, nursing, social work, PSW, dentistry, pharmacy, occupational therapy, and more.