The Creative and Liberal Arts (CALA)/ Duke Health Humanities Project enhances selected general education courses with Health Humanities content for pre-professional healthcare students. If you are interested in or are enrolled in a healthcare program and require general education courses, these courses are designed for you!

What is Health Humanities?

Health Humanities (HH) is an interdisciplinary field that uses methods common to the Humanities, Arts, and Humanistic Social Sciences to study health issues vital to healers, patients, and their respective communities. Its goals include better preparing and sustaining people who serve those communities as healthcare professionals.

HH content is relevant to all students. Everyone is involved in healthcare as patients or care givers, as family and friends, or fellow community members. As author Susan Sontag put it many years ago, “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.”

Why pursue Health Humanities?

There is a growing body of literature concerning Health Humanities and recent publications point to benefits, both short and long-term, for those who receive HH instruction. It improves the performance of students pursuing healthcare credentials and subsequently helps them become more effective providers and leaders when they enter their chosen areas of care. A recent study of pre-healthcare college students, for example, indicated that Health Humanities courses cultivated “specific habits of mind” that are key to understanding core health issues and to providing effective healthcare. Among those habits are thinking critically and creatively, communicating clearly and effectively, reasoning and problem-solving ethically, and identifying and addressing internal biases. Students in this group were confident that their HH experience gave them a higher level of preparedness to engage with their future health education and careers.

For those students not formally entering healthcare fields, there is also evidence that HH work broadly provides support for college-level learning. Radford University Professor Amy Rubens integrated Health Humanities into an English Composition course, for example, and found that her students brought personal health experiences to the classroom. This created close connections to course content and provided common ground for students as they worked toward general learning outcomes.

Promising results such as these have helped spark the exponential growth of Health Humanities programs since the turn of the 21st century. There are now well over 110 Health Humanities programs at colleges and universities across North America and many more around the globe.

Health Humanities at Durham Tech

While this project focuses on providing valuable educational opportunities for all Durham Tech students, it specifically focuses on one of the College’s largest student populations: pre-professional healthcare students. According to recent institutional data, roughly 25% of the curriculum (or credit) student body intend to work in healthcare. This includes both students seeking applied or technical credentials and those intending to transfer to four-year institutions.

With these thoughts in mind and with the support of the Mellon Foundation and Duke University, Durham Tech has been able to develop a cluster of five high-demand general education courses, commonly taken by students aspiring to health careers, that have been enhanced with Health Humanities content. As a result, Durham Tech is now among the first community colleges to offer this important Health Humanities instruction to its students.

Collaboration with Duke

Durham Tech faculty from the Department of Creative and Liberal Arts worked closely with the four co-directors from Duke University’s Health Humanities Lab. Input from Durham Tech’s Health and Wellness Department and the Duke Medical System also informed the team’s conversations. A grant from the Mellon Foundation funded the collaboration and provided support to Durham Tech faculty through generous course releases and stipends that afforded these faculty the time and resources needed to develop their courses. Duke brought further support to the effort by providing paid graduate student assistance over the summer months. Faculty from Duke and Durham Tech worked in pairs and the entire group gathered for six colloquia over the fall and spring semesters.

Durham Tech courses that are enhanced with Health Humanities content

These sections are not restricted. They are open and relevant to all students.

COM 120-100 – Introduction to Personal Communication (with Jason Moldoff)

Jason Moldoff partnered with Dr. Neil Prose, Co-Director of the Health Humanities Lab at Duke University. Students in Moldoff’s COM 120 will create and critique narratives about issues facing healthcare professionals. Students will learn to apply traditional concepts (e.g., Language, Nonverbal, Perception, Listening, etc.) to healthcare settings through analysis of speeches and television shows. Students will develop and perform scenarios that highlight the importance of power dynamics in resolving interpersonal conflict in healthcare settings. Humanities-focused instruction through storytelling will provide students a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play in their colleagues' and patients' lives. Students do not need to be pursuing a medical certificate, diploma, or degree to benefit from this course. Traditional concepts studies in Interpersonal Communication (e.g., The Self, Friendship, and Romantic Communication) will be studied before advancing to the Health Humanities portion of the course.

ENG 112 – Writing and Research in the Disciplines (with Janel Thompson)

Janel Thompson paired with Dr. Marion Quirici, Co-Director of the Health Humanities Lab at Duke University. Their partnership is focused on revising the content, methodologies, and assignments of Thompson's English 112 course to incorporate a critical disabilities studies theme. They are developing units on disability language and rhetoric, mental health, autism, and the intersectionality of disability with race, gender, sexuality and class.

HUM 115 – Critical Thinking (with Lyndsay Al-Shibli)

Lyndsay Al-Shibli partnered with Dr. Karrie Stewart, Co-Director of the Health Humanities Lab at Duke University. The HUM 115 they enhanced is generally designed to introduce the use of critical thinking theory and skills development strategies to better manage human conflict in an array of contexts, from the personal to the professional. Every human will be a participant in some capacity in the healthcare system at some point in their lives, either as a patient, as a loved one of a patient, as an advocate for a patient, or as a working professional. Therefore, this course attempts to use the healthcare setting as the primary context in which students will practice the application of their developing understanding of critical thinking theory and conflict resolution strategies. Students can expect to deeply analyze human conflicts inherit in the healthcare setting; however, emphasis is placed on effective and fair conflict resolution through understanding and respecting various perspectives, including cross-cultural perspectives. Emphasis will also be placed on engaging in rational thought processes and discussions and on logical problem-solving and decision-making. Students will be encouraged to view each new conflict from the perspective of all players within the conflict and will be encouraged to examine strategies that would have resulted in more positive and productive interactions for all players. 

PHI 240 – Introduction to Ethics (with Aaron Brooks)

Aaron Brooks partnered with Dr. Karrie Stewart, Co-Director of the Health Humanities Lab at Duke University, to work on Brooks's course PHI-240, Introduction to Ethics. They explored his existing case studies through a new lens of cultural diversity and introduced innovative pedagogical health humanities techniques to deepen student understanding of the complexity of these ethical dilemmas.

PSY 241 – Developmental Psychology (with Marisa Sullivan)

Marisa Sullivan partnered with Dr. Jehanne Geith, Co-Director of the Health Humanities Lab at Duke University.  In her PSY 241 sections, Sullivan will place special emphasis on LGBTQ+ issues throughout the lifespan. Topics discussed will be analyzed through the use of graphic medicine and parallel charts.  Both of these practices will take a personalized and empathetic approach to healthcare in different populations. The course is also globalized with emphasis placed on Latinx populations. Students will investigate various cultures and discuss differences in healthcare systems and related material. This approach will be useful beyond those pursuing healthcare careers as well. 

Additional resources about Health Humanities

Need more information? Email Dr. David Long, Dean of Creative and Liberal Arts at