Lehigh University
Lehigh University


New minor tackles major challenge

Elizabeth Dolan

Universal health care, aging populations, long-term care, disease and illness, affordable drugs—the list of complex health needs is increasing to meet the demands of an aging and growing population.

In order to provide undergraduate students with the chance to develop an understanding of the impact of these issues in the 21st century, the College of Arts and Sciences introduced a new Health, Medicine, and Society minor this semester.

“Health and health care are major challenges we’re facing as a society,” says Elizabeth Dolan, director of the minor. “On global, national, and local levels, the need for ethical and effective uses of resources to alleviate suffering is increasing due to population growth, aging, and poverty. This generation of Lehigh students—even students who don’t think of themselves as being interested in health care—will inevitably encounter related issues in their lives and careers. The Health, Medicine, and Society minor seeks to integrate an understanding of cultural, ethical, political, rhetorical, economic, and psychological aspects of health and illness into the undergraduate curriculum.”

At first glance, Dolan, an associate professor of English, might appear an unlikely director for a program focused on health and medicine. But as an expert in 18th-century British literature, most of Dolan’s work has been focused on the history of medicine and the history of suffering. And, prior to joining Lehigh, she served as the Senior Fellow in Literature and Medicine for three years in the UNC Chapel Hill Medical School.

“Most medical schools have medical humanities or social medicine departments that are devoted to the study of health and illness from non-science perspectives. Lehigh is a leader in offering this type of program at the undergraduate level,” Dolan says.

This approach—drawing upon Lehigh’s strengths in the humanities and social sciences to address issues in health and medicine—is indicative of the type of collaboration that brought this minor to light. A group of 10 faculty members led by biological sciences professor Linda Lowe-Krentz began planning the minor more than a year ago in consultation with innovative programs at Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Dolan’s interdisciplinary perspective, coupled with a diverse range of core faculty from biological sciences, economics, English, history, journalism and communications, political science, psychology, religion studies, and sociology, has created a well-rounded curriculum in Health, Medicine, and Society.

Students can pair courses in the humanities such as “Confronting Disease in Europe and America” and “From Black Death to AIDS: Religion, Ethics, Plague and Pandemic” with social science electives such as “Medicine and Society” and “Health Economics.”

In addition to these classroom opportunities, “the Health, Medicine and Society minor will help support collaborative faculty research efforts and offer programming that will give students literacy in public health when they enter the job market,” Dolan says.

The minor has already attracted 16 students from a wide range of majors, including behavioral neuroscience, bio-engineering, biological sciences, English, journalism, psychology, religion studies, science writing, and sociology.

Sophomore Caroline Kusi, a sociology major who declared the minor this semester, is planning to work in the public health field upon graduation and believes the work she pursues in the classroom will help prepare her for some of the challenges that lie ahead.

“This minor will enable me to understand the organizational, cultural, economical, and political issues in addressing health inequities, global health, HIV/AIDS prevention, and socio-economic factors that affect health,” Kusi says. “I strongly believe that through this minor, I will be very prepared to take on projects with future organizations that are dedicated to helping people live beneficial and healthy lives both nationally and internationally.”

Kusi has also started the Public Health Coalition, a new campus club that advocates for issues pertaining to global health issues, health policies, and student participation. The club also works collaboratively with St. Luke’s Community Health Department to benefit the Bethlehem community.

Dolan notes that such opportunities for students open doors to partner with the Lehigh Valley’s two major hospitals, including St. Luke’s Hospital and Lehigh Valley Hospital, and can bolster the program’s aim to work in the community and create collaborative research opportunities.

The minor is also sponsoring a series of health-care policy events for all members of the campus community. Beginning in October, the events will help inform voters about each presidential candidate’s proposed changes to health care in the U.S.

For more information, visit the Health, Medicine and Society Web site.

--Tricia Long

Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2008

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