U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Medicine, Medical Education, and the Medical Humanities at USIH

Last week I promised a review of Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s American Nietzsche. I made some real progress on that project over the past week, but it is not ready for posting. As such I am going to turn to other subjects that I plan on tackling more often here as time progresses: the place of the health sciences, medicine, and medical education in the realm of U.S. intellectual history.

Some of you know, or may know, that I am now working as an Academic Advisor in the Teaching and Learning Center at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine (the TLC page doesn’t yet reflect my position). I started this job last month. Student advising is no foreign area for me. Indeed, when I wrote my first USIH post (almost six years ago!) I was a student advisor in Loyola’s undergraduate Pre-Health Office. I worked there from 2006-2008, then at the University of Illinois-Chicago from 2008-2010, and then most recently at Monmouth College (from 2010 until this past May). I have thought, on and off again, about outlining my professional “adventures” here more explicitly. I even had a tentative post title: “Plan M” for medicine. Ultimately I decided it was too personal. If I do it, I’ll write on Plan M here and perhaps offer a prompt at this location.

At UIC, I worked on the history of its Health Sciences Schools and its Medical District. Although I focused on the 1910-1950 period, for a chapter in a planned history of the campus, I also learned a lot about UIC’s present situation and programs in medicine, nursing, and research. Courtesy of Fred Beuttler, who had helped me obtain employment at UIC, I became increasingly interested in something called the “Medical Humanities.”

The Medical Humanities have developed, over the past 20 years or so (as best I understand the topic), as a corrective for medical students who have no sense of the place of medicine in the larger intellectual, cultural, and social life of the United States. These programs often teach ethics as well. Although the med school curriculum is filled and set with courses in the basic sciences, anatomy, systems, pathology, and patient care, programs in the Medical Humanities offer little spaces where med students can become reacquainted with their larger social, intellectual, and cultural context.

As I get more comfortable with my position (which includes one-on-one advising, constructing workshops on study skills and meta-cognition, helping with time management, and thinking about projects related to research on teaching and learning), I plan to dive into the medical humanities as much as possible. In the process I hope to find more and more connections with my work on U.S. intellectual history.

Finding those connection points won’t be that difficult. Several famous, and infamous, MDs have found special places as public figures over the course of the twentieth century: William Carlos Williams, Walker Percy, Michael Crichton, Paul Farmer, Bill Frist, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Tom Coburn, Sanjay Gupta, Mehmet Oz, Deepak Chopra, Charles Krauthammer, Benjamin Spock, and on and on and on. And this list does not touch on nurses, physical therapists, medical researchers, and medical educators.

And then there are the ancillary, less-famous figures. My work at UIC, for instance, covered a researcher and dean, David J. Davis, who was something of a Renaissance man in his own time. He became a public figure in Chicago after tracing a strep outbreak to a Wisconsin dairy with infected cows. I presented on Davis in 2010 at the Conference on Illinois History, and posted my paper at Academia.edu. I hope to re-engage my work on Davis in the near future, as well as look into some interesting events and figures associated with Loyola Chicago.

I won’t be leaving behind my work on the great books idea. Indeed, I see my potential work on medical education and medical intellectuals as just another iteration in my long-held studies on the history of education. I hope that research and writing will contribute to some long-term growth related to the Medical Humanities. These endeavors will, I hope, feed into my advising work, identity, and place in the medical education establishment. I also hope they will add something new and exciting to my contributions as a regular poster at USIH. – TL