Elective Years 1 and 2: Directed Studies in Medical/Health Humanities

Department: Art & Humanities in Health & Medicine (AHHM) Program, Undergraduate Medical Education

Directed Studies in Medical/Health Humanities (Year 1 & 2)

Location: Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry -  Meetings/mentoring will occur ONLINE via Zoom
Duration: 12 hours, over a flexible period of time.  

**This elective requires submission of a pre-approved project proposal.**  If you are interested in this elective, or would like to request additional information, please contact Lisa Bussiere, MD Program/AHHM Administrator (ahhm@ualberta.ca) to arrange an appointment with Dr. Pamela Brett-MacLean.  


This elective provides an opportunity for 1st and 2nd year medical students to undertake an inquiry relevant to the medical/ health humanities.


A broad, interdisciplinary field, the medical/ health humanities (M/HH) encompasses a range of disciplines, including philosophy and ethics, history, literature, law, religious studies/spirituality, cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, psychology, film, etc. This elective provides a space for exploring questions (which are often personally relevant) regarding the culturally and historically constructed nature of illness and health, clinical practice and healthcare, and/or health professions education.  Focused on the "human side of medicine", this elective provides an opportunity for students to explore moral, socio-cultural, and ethico-existential dimensions of medicine as part of their clinical education, through independent, scholarly projects.


Humanities- and social science-based interpretive and analytical inquiry approaches provide a means of gaining critical insights into human and socio-cultural dimensions of illness and healthcare experiences that can serve to challenge commonly accepted assumptions, suggest new understandings and possibilities, and raise new questions, which can help to foster understanding, care, and compassion, self-reflection, action, and advocacy. Over the course of the elective, students are mentored by faculty members and others affiliated with the AHHM program.


In preparation for, and during their elective, students explore M/HH and other relevant published literature, and online resources relevant to their question or area of interest. Over the course of the elective, students are mentored by faculty members and others affiliated with the AHHM program.


Students are required to: 1) present on the outcomes of their inquiry as part of the AHHM Occasional Speaker Series, or Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences in Medicine (AHSSM) Interest Group; OR, alternatively, 2) students may submit a short essay (~5 pages) that demonstrates their ability to synthesize and analyze scholarly evidence, while developing a clear, well-organized argument that also integrates their own views and perspectives (primary and secondary sources must be appropriately cited).


Students who are interested in pursuing this elective are required to complete a brief elective proposal, via an online Google Form (title, guiding question, inquiry approach - which may include a combination of selected readings, consultation with faculty scholars and clinical experts, family and patient representatives, and other experiential learning options, brief rationale, supportive references, proposed start and end dates, ~200 words).

To view a PDF of the Google Form, click here; the link will be made available pending exploratory discussion with Dr. Pamela Brett-MacLean (Contact Lisa Bussiere, MD Program/AHHM Administrator at ahhm@ualberta.ca to make an appointment). Note: It is recognized that the project the student ultimately completes may vary from the proposal they submit as part of applying for this elective.


A pass/ fail grade will be assigned (as per the standard "Assessment of Elective Performance" form).  Additional formative feedback will be provided following fulfillment of elective requirements.


At the end of the academic year, students will be invited to complete a feedback form to help ensure the quality of this elective experience for students in subsequent years.

  1. To introduce medical students to the field of medical/ health humanities, and it's application to medical education and clinical practice;
  2. To support students in exploring and reflecting on M/HH interdisciplinary perspectives related to medicine in a personally relevant way.
Additional Notes:

For an example of a completed medical/ health humanities directed studies clerkship elective project, see Nunan, D. (2011). Fault lines: Scars as text in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Anil's Ghost. University of Alberta Sciences Journal, 6(1), 14-16, click here.


Students may seek to publish on some aspect of their work in a medical humanities journal (e.g., Ars Medica, CMAJ's Humanities section), medical education journal (e.g., CMEJ), or other publication. Although not a requirement of the elective, students will be provided with advice should they be interested in pursuing this opportunity.


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.  Other specific electives in ethics and other humanities-related areas are offered as UME electives in Yer 1 and 2 (see Electives Catalogue).


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


Note: A similar elective is offered to clerkship students, although additional hours and obligations are required of 3rd and 4th year students.

Last Updated: November 16, 2020