Drew University Brings Care Ethics and Theory to Medical and Health Professions

The Medical & Health Humanities program stands at the core of humanizing medicine and care

March 2023 – Drew University’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies Medical & Health Humanities program was created over three decades ago to meet the growing need for advanced training in health and medical humanities, care ethics, health policy, contemplative care, and narrative medicine.

The low-residency and interdisciplinary program provides masters, doctorate, and certificate level programs to address the demand for professionals who are trained to understand the ethical, political, historical, cultural, and practical aspects of healthcare. 

In addition, Drew’s new Contemplative Professional certificate launched this semester. Through the certificate, students learn how to contribute to healthier and more humane care practices by starting with care for themselves as care providers. 

Providing quality care is often overlooked as a standard in providing exceptional healthcare in today’s world. Care is everywhere, but the pandemic showed care can be challenging. Care and caregiving are fundamental to emotional and physical well-being—for both the patient and caregiver.

Drew’s first-of-its-kind Medical & Health Humanities program is one of the few U.S.-based programs that offers courses in care theory and ethics. 

“Fostering health and humanizing health care is the mission of the Medical & Health Humanities program, and we cannot do that without critically and creatively understanding what care is and does,” said Merel Visse, associate professor and director of the Medical & Health Humanities program. “Care is a response to needs and needs are much broader than health care needs.”

Visse’s scholarship in care ethics, the arts, and aesthetics brings an interdisciplinary field of inquiry where theory and practice inform one another.

Her background is vital to the program and is regularly incorporated into the curriculum, demonstrated by the Art and Care Platform she co-leads with her UK-based colleague Elena Cologni, also highlighting the various connections of Drew’s program with colleagues abroad. She actively involves her graduate students in such platforms, also fostering learning through experiences outside of coursework.

“Students learn how care, health, and medicine intersect with the humanities and creative arts,” said Visse. “This program brings students humanistic approaches to transform health care by addressing ethical, medical, and social challenges such as inequity, disparities, and workforce burnout. It teaches a better understanding of the human and social condition, including listening to the needs of patients, their families, and health professionals in various contexts.”

“I have a history of combining academic work in the sciences, humanities, and business,” said Joan Affleck G’24, associate vice president at Merck & Co. “The doctoral program in Medical and Health Humanities takes my interdisciplinary interests to the next level. The diversity of subject matter linked with the rigor of research methodology affords a rich environment for intellectual inquiry and practical application of new insights and knowledge.” 

The methodologies taught in Drew’s innovative Medical & Health Humanities program continue to be groundbreaking. By integrating care ethics, the arts and humanities, healthcare providers can learn to be better observers and interpreters while building compassion, communication, and collaboration skills.

“I chose the Medical & Health Humanities program at Drew because it does not want to take away from scientific findings, but emphasizes that humanities can provide additional perspectives to the sciences,” said Anica Lazetic G’22, genetic counseling assistant (GCA) at Sema4. “The program focuses on educational resources that uncover a diverse way of thinking about human history, culture, behavior, and experience. These resources teach students to practice patient-centered care and properly analyze, evaluate, and impact healthcare practices and priorities.”

The curriculum integrates academic inquiry and professional experience to prepare students for careers throughout the healthcare industry, community care settings, and beyond. Professionals serve as clinical or public health ethics consultants, moral case facilitators, policymakers, applied and humanities researchers, administrators, leaders of initiatives that foster health and well-being, or work as care professionals in education, health care, and social care settings.

In addition, the program offers an array of specialized and related programming and special guest speakers. Recent events include Maternity & Care: A Medical & Health Humanities Colloquium and Creating Cultures of Trust and Equity for People Living with Sickle Cell Disease (in collaboration with Novartis), as well as the Healing Arts Symposium with professors Ellen Dissanayake and Peter Shannon from the American Institute for Music and Healing.

“As a long standing member of the pharmaceutical industry, 32 years at Novartis and three years at Merck, it has become more apparent that the patient’s story and a patient’s quality of life are just as important as relieving the symptoms of disease or an actual cure,” said Kevin Poirier G’23, director of data transparency at Novartis. 

“The patient narrative helps the clinical investigative team design better trials and capture important information about a disease that might frequently be unknown unless we dive deeper into the patient’s story. Both diagnostic and narrative medicine are needed to provide a complete picture of a patient’s medical condition.”


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