New UT master’s program to bridge gap between humanities, healthcare

Hope Unger, News Reporter

In early October, a new master’s program that explores how the arts and humanities interact with the medical field started accepting applications for its first semester in the fall of 2022. 

The Humanities, Health and Medicine program is housed in the Humanities Institute within the College of Liberal Arts. Phillip Barrish, the program’s founding director, said he had the idea for the program five years ago and he believes it will provide a humanistic framework for people who are interested in medicine and health. 

“We really want to look at structural components of health,” said Barrish, a professor of American and British literature and professor of medical education. “Sometimes there’s a real distrust for … very good historical reasons of the medical establishment. And so health humanities in part is born to try to really understand and address that not entirely from within medicine.”

In addition to a required introduction course in the College of Liberal Arts, other colleges will reserve seats for students in the program that pertain to health humanities, Barrish said during an information session on Oct. 19. 

Barrish said ideal candidates for the program are people who are willing to explore how health and humanities fit together and think transdisciplinary.

“There’s a lot of room to shape the program to pursue specific interests that you have,” Barrish said. “There will be more pressure on our students to develop a cohesive program.”

Margo Sawyer, a professor of sculpture and extended media, said she was asked to be an adviser for the program. She said she agreed that people in the medical field should be required to take more humanities courses. 

“A cell structure through the eyes of an artist is a very different way of looking at the cell structure (than) through the eyes of a microbiologist,” Sawyer said. “I think students who are armed with multiple facets of the educational humanities environment and arts environment will contribute greatly to future medical fields.”

Esha Ali, who attended the information session last week, said this program is a good opportunity for students who wish to take more time between their undergraduate and Ph.D. studies to explore their interests.

“It’s catered towards so many different individuals,” said Ali, a sociology and history junior. “It could be for those who might already be working in the medicine field for a really long time and maybe they want to expand their scope.”