Elective Years 1 and 2: Designing Health: Transforming Healthcare by Design (Interprofessional Elective)

Department: Arts & Humanities in Health & Medicine (AHHM) Program, Undergraduate Medical Education
Title: Designing Health: Transforming Healthcare by Design (Interprofessional Elective)
Location: Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, via Zoom

Tuesday evenings - Feb 1, 8. 15, Mar 1, 2022 6:00-9:00 pm.


To sign up for this elective, click here .  If you would like to request information about upcoming sessions, please contact Patrick von Hauff at vonhauff@ualberta.ca


Increasingly, design processes and methods are being used to address some of the most complex challenges facing healthcare today.  Concerned with the betterment of the human condition, design shares many goals with medicine and the health humanities while also offering a unique approach to inquiry and action. In this elective students are introduced to collaborative practice at the intersection of healthcare and design.

Co-led by Pamela Brett-MacLean, AHHM director and Patrick von Hauff, professional designer and AHHM affiliate, students work together in interprofessional teams and explore opportunities that design tools, methods, and approaches offer for identifying, understanding, and responding to pressing healthcare issues.  Design processes will support constructive collaboration across disciplines, and inform identification and exploration of problems, followed by purpose-driven, intentional problem-solving informed by new ways of seeing, thinking, and understanding.  Since this elective was introduced, teams have developed high-level concept proposals encompassing a wide range of outputs, including resources, products, environments, services, policies, and systems. 

This virtual elective includes both online and livestreaming components. Online resources and activities (via eClass) include selected media about  the evolving fields of design, and health humanities, as well as synchronous and asynchronous discussion interaction (introductions, discussion), and collaborative workspaces for student teams.

In addition, all four sessions will take place via Zoom. The first three sessions begin with a dialogue with invited speakers from across health and design professions (45 mins). These case presentations and demonstrations introduce participants to design histories, processes, and methods. Following this, students organized into interdisciplinary teams identify a pressing concern or issue they would like to address, which they then explore through multiple perspectives, including interprofessionalism. Creative brainstorming, which may include consultation with faculty scholars/clinical experts, family and patient representatives, or other experiential approaches, is used to inspire a wide-ranging exploration of the identified problem. Through critical discussion; and collaborative design practice, teams develop and test out high-level proposals directed to enacting a positive, or even a transformational change in healthcare. In the final session, the teams present their design proposals (sketches, written text, interactive scenarios, physical or digital artifacts, etc.), reflect on what they learned, and invite feedback for further developing their healthcare innovation.  Finally, students are asked to submit a short narrative reflection regarding their experience of the elective. 

Learners from all backgrounds are welcome to participate – healthcare and design experience is an asset but not required. 

Medical students will receive a pass/fail grade, along with narrative feedback (as per the standard “Assessment of Elective Performance” form) that reflects their participation in the elective, and final design proposal.  Students from other health science disciplines who are enrolled in INTD 411/511 will receive a grade and narrative feedback.

Students will be invited to provide formal feedback to help ensure the quality of this elective experience for students in subsequent years

Objectives: Guiding objectives:
  • To explore relationships between design concepts, humanities, and healthcare through readings, discussion, and project work;
  • To reflect on healthcare issues, critique contemporary practices, and propose alternatives using human-centered design approaches;
  • To demonstrate relational practice within an interdisciplinary team setting.

Interprofessional competency objectives:

  1. Communication: model appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication; describe and apply culturally appropriate communication approaches;
  2. Team functioning: employ appropriate techniques to facilitate collaborative discussions and interactions among team members;
  3. Role clarification: describe the role of your profession and other professions in co-designing health; identify potential gaps in team membership; access others’ skills and knowledge appropriately through consultation - consult, seek advice, and confer with your health professional colleagues;
  4. Conflict resolution: establish a safe environment in which to express diverse viewpoints; develop a level of consensus among those with differing views;
  5. Patient/ client/ family/ community-centred care: support participation of patients/clients and their families, or community representatives as integral partners in care or service planning; listen respectfully to the expressed needs of all parties in shaping/delivering care/services; share information with patients/clients (or family and community) in a respectful manner and in such a way that is understandable, encourages discussion, and enhances participation in decision-making, ensuring that knowledge translation occurs at the level of the patient;
  6. Collaborative leadership: co-create a climate for shared leadership and collaborative practice among all participants; apply collaborative decision-making principles; work with others to enable best patient/client outcomes, identifying opportunities to improve team outcomes and contribute to making any changes that are needed.
Additional Notes:


Offered as an AHHM elective (MED 517/527) beginning in 2020, this course builds off of previous educational offerings: “Designing for Health: A Collaborative Project with the Health Humanities and the Community” an interprofessional AHHM elective offered in collaboration with the Dept. of Art & Design (Faculty of Arts) in the Spring 2013 term; a subsequent successful pilot “Co-Designing Health INT D 411 course delivered in June 2018 as a collaboration of HSERC, Dept. of Art & Design, and AHHM; and as “Transforming Healthcare by Design” INT D 408/508 which took place in the 2020 Winter term. 

This elective, along with other AHHM electives, 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.

This elective is OPEN to students from ALL health science programs, PLUS students from arts/design studies or other programs outside health sciences.

MAX - 20 students (4 teams of 5 students); MIN - 8 students (2 teams of 4 students).

Last Updated: September 28, 2021