Elective Years 1 and 2: Border Crossings: Introduction to Medical/Health Humanities

Department: Arts & Humanities in Health & Medicine (AHHM), Undergraduate Medical Education
Title: Border Crossings:  Introduction to Medical/Health Humanities
Location: Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry - ONLINE via Zoom

4 sessions (15 hours): Feb 1, Mar 1, & Mar 8 (2:00 - 4:00 PM) and Mar 22, 2022 (2:00 - 5:00 PM) + pre-session preparation.


To sign up for this elective click here.  To request additional information, contact Lisa Bussiere, MD Program/AHHM Administrator by email (ahhm@ualberta.ca) or phone (780-492-0445).


The medical/ health humanities (M/HH) is a growing, interdisciplinary field that explores interconnections between medicine, the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, to counter tendencies toward biomedical reductionism, and promote development of sensitivities and sensibilities critical to “practice artistry” in medicine (Bleakley et al., 2003) through the mutual entanglement of diverse perspectives, generative learning, and collaborative action... leading to new possibilities for health, healthcare, and medicine, for all of us. This elective provides an introductory survey of the role and contribution of the medical/ health humanities in the education of health professionals.


Small-group seminar format (online via Zoom); four sessions focused on the following topics:

  • Feb 1 - “What is the Medical/Health Humanities (M/HH)?”
  • Mar 1 - “Beyond Objectification and Reductionism: Opening to the "Other" 
  • Mar 8 - "M/HHSo...'World travelling' across Otherness and Difference”
  • Mar 22 - “Borderland Explorations” (Student presentations)

The first three sessions are scheduled from 2:00-4:00 pm. The final session is scheduled from 2:00-5:00 pm to ensure sufficient time for student presentations.

Sessions 1-3: Pre-session materials, both required and supplemental, will be assigned (including essays, short stories, poems and artworks). Students should read these materials before each session (~1 hour), and be prepared to contribute to discussions in the context of: a) their own first- or second-hand experiences (as patients, a family member, or friend, or in relation to their educational studies or work experience), and/ or b) in relation to a specific disease or illness they have researched. During the first hour or so, core assigned readings will be discussed, followed by brief presentations by students in which they share what they found most interesting in the additional article, essay, or poem, etc. they are assigned.  Following each session, students will submit a short personal mini-reflection (5-10 sentences) regarding new meanings and insights they are experiencing.

Session 4: For the final session, students will prepare and share a short verbal, visual, performance, or analytical mini-presentation (5-10 minutes). Four options: 1) present an idea for integrating arts in medical education; 2) identify relevant social sciences and humanities scholarship that could help prepare students to be advocates and address social justice inequities; 3) report on health-related media coverage considering medical/health humanities scholarship/perspectives; 4) other - pitch me an idea! Multiple formats: PPT presentation; short essay; creative writing; poetry; video; artwork; or music; or present on a relevant scholarly or creative work. Informed by one or more M/HH perspectives or disciplines, presentations may consider the perspective or experience of a patient, medical student, healthcare practitioner, etc.). 

A commitment to attend ALL four sessions of the elective is mandatory; students prepare and deliver a capstone mini-presentation, and submit a final short personal narrative reflection.  Regular attendance, pre-reading of assigned materials, and active participation is expected.
A pass/ fail grade will be assigned (as per the standard “Assessment of Elective Performance” form). 
Students will be asked to complete a feedback form to help ensure the quality of this elective offering over time.


At the end of this elective, students will understand the role and contributions of the medical/ health humanities in relation to:

  1. developing insights into the body and lived experience of illness/ disease and health care;
  2. cultivating empathy and compassion, for patients, oneself, and others;
  3. promoting relational, appreciative ways of engaging in, and creating compassionate health care settings and environments;
  4. envisioning better possible futures for healthcare.

The goal is to consider a wide range of texts and forms of knowledge, and engage in appreciative reflection. Students will practice being fully present and attentively listening to, and responding to each other. This elective provides students with an opportunity to describe new understandings and insights, and explore curious wonderings about the lived experience of illness and healthcare, through the arts and humanities.

Additional Notes:

Maximum enrollment: 12 students. Enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis.

This is ONE of TWO Gateway Electives for the M/HH Community of Learning. 15 hours will be credited toward M/HH CoL activity hours; 12 hours will be credited toward required MD Program elective hours. Students do not need to be part of the M/HH CoL to participate in this elective. 

Along with other AHHM electives, this elective exists to support medical students in broadening their intellectual and clinical/ practice-based horizons, in particular with respect to the intersections that exist between the arts and humanities in relation to medicine.

Medical students can complete more than one 12-hour elective in Year 1 and 2.

Bleakley A, Marshall R, & Bromer R. (2006).  Toward an aesthetic medicine:  Developing a core medical humanities undergraduate curriculum.  Journal of Medical Humanities, 27(4), 197-213.

Last Updated: January 17, 2022