Medical Humanities, Healthcare, & the Environment

Why do people in some communities in the U.S. live, on average, 20-25 years longer than people in other communities? Around Richmond, why do the residents of Gilpin Court near the Medical College of Virginia at VCU live, on average, 20 years shorter than the residents of Westover Hills and neighborhoods around UR? Why does Virginia have some counties with the longest life expectancy and some counties with the lowest life expectancy in the U.S.? What are the key environmental drivers of people’s health. And what is it like to be a patient, a medical provider, and a caregiver? These are the main questions that guide this SSIR program.

Inside the Classroom

Students in the classroom explore the interface of medicine, the health professions, and the human condition that includes illness, suffering, and healing. They study the social, cultural, emotional, ethical, philosophical, and psychological dimensions of medicine and healthcare. The course surveys what it is like to be sick, to provide medical care to sick people, and serves as an introduction to non-clinical aspects of medical practice that confront health care practitioners. Topics include medical ethics, racism in medicine, the doctor-patient relationship, the nurse-patient relationship, dentistry, pharmaceuticals (psychedelics, opioids, stimulants, anxiolytics), mental illness, obesity, pregnancy, labor & delivery, disability, addiction, animal rights, aging and dying. The course highlights ethical and interpersonal aspects of healthcare and medicine. It also highlights the analytical and reflective skills of clinicians, caregivers, and patients at the intersections of medicine as a science and as an art.

Outside the Classroom

Connect what you learn in class through various experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom. Students attend lectures by public health and healthcare leaders, meet Richmond alumni working in the medical, health policy and public health fields, connect with UR's pre-health, environmental and sustainability organizations, and attend programs and events.

Along with a number of local field trips around RVA, the class will take a Fall Break community trip to Boston, Massachusetts and Acadia National Park, Maine to learn more about medicine, healthcare and the environment.  To see more of what this trip looks like check out this video from a past student.

Research and Capstone Project

During the spring semester, students work in groups with their classmates to create a capstone project and present it to the University community on a health policy or public health issue.

View the 2019–20 capstone project about COVID-19

Past capstone project topics have included:

  • "Hot spotting" the needs of very sick, high-cost patients
  • The importance of clean water, air and affordable nutritious food
  • "Nature deficit disorder" and the positive health effects of being outdoors
  • School-based public health and health care services for children
  • Racial, economic and gender health disparities and access to medical care
  • Being “Pre-Med” and different paths to careers in medicine and healthcare
  • Sex education and reproductive health: Spiders Have Sex podcast on Spotify

Sample Course Readings

Dr. Nooshin Razani, “Prescribing Nature for Health”  (TEDx Talks)

New York Times, “A Final Goodbye to Opiates: A Patient’s Perspective

Netflix, Crip Camp (documentary)

Eyal Press, “The Moral Crisis of America’s Doctors,” New York Times Magazine

Williams, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative