Welcome to the IMH Graduate Program
Mark A. Clark, Ph.D.
Graduate Program Director
Graduate Program Coordinator
In 1988, the Medical Humanities Graduate Program of the Institute for the Medical Humanities (IMH) at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) was authorized to offer the nation's first Ph.D. degree in the medical humanities. Twenty-three years later, we are still one of the very few programs in the United States to offer advanced degrees (M.A. and Ph.D.) in the medical humanities. Fifty-eight students have graduated (thirteen M.A., forty-five Ph.D.) and twenty-one degree-seeking students are currently enrolled.
In celebration of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the IMH and the twentieth anniversary of its Medical Humanities Graduate Program, the IMH hosted a conference on Graduate Education in Medical Humanities: Models and Methods, March 6-9, 2008, in Galveston. This conference provided a rare opportunity for faculty, administrators, and students of such programs throughout the world to come together to investigate the questions that characterize this evolving field of graduate education; to discuss their work; and to share models and methods of successful programs.
We have enjoyed the freedom and creativity inherent in developing this innovative, interdisciplinary Medical Humanities Graduate Program. And we continue to struggle with the difficulty of stating precisely what a medical humanities degree signifies, how medical humanists are trained, and what they do after completing their graduate education. What does it mean to become a medical humanist by studying at the IMH? This question cannot be adequately answered abstractly or in advance of the experience itself, but some useful things can be said. Becoming a medical humanist is not simply a matter of taking an array of interdisciplinary courses in the medical humanities or of acquiring the knowledge and skills of a clinical ethicist. Becoming a medical humanist includes more than curricular and professional development. Formal humanities knowledge and clinical competence must be personally integrated so that they become humanistic—a word with so many meanings and (often negative) connotations that it is rarely used today in scholarly discourse.
By humanistic, we refer to knowledge (not necessarily in the humanities), clinical competence, or practice that is informed by the ancient ideal of humanitas. The original meaning of the Latin word humanitas was human feeling; the word gradually became associated with an educational ideal that blended knowledge, humane feeling, and compassionate action. It is this wonderful and elusive mixture of knowledge, feeling, and action—the humanist educational ideal in Lionel Trilling's terms—that we are trying to recapture and refigure in a contemporary health-care setting. Humanistic knowledge is more difficult to achieve than cognitive knowledge alone, because it demands heightened awareness that all knowledge resides in particular individuals who are embodied, embedded in social relationships, and limited. Humanistic knowledge requires attention to the context of knowledge making and to the practical needs and problems of any given situation. It requires a depth of self-understanding, which allows both detached discernment and personal engagement, depending on the human needs of any given situation and the scholarly, clinical, or pedagogical aims of the knower.
The personal integration essential to humanistic knowledge is a fluid, holistic ideal that can occasionally be achieved and exemplified but cannot be taught directly or didactically. It is an ongoing personal and interpersonal process. The IMH faculty therefore conceives the development of a medical humanities graduate student as a kind of "moral career" in itself—one that involves collaborative cultivation of a responsible engaged self who seeks his or her own unique blend of knowledge, feeling, and action.
By and large, humanities scholars in contemporary academic life are cut off from this strenuous holistic ideal and from its ancient and Renaissance humanist origins. Especially since the late nineteenth century, academic humanists have been encouraged to take up permanent residence within the boundaries of a particular humanities discipline and to pursue specialized research and teaching. Without devaluing the necessity of specialized research and teaching, the IMH faculty believes that becoming a medical humanist—and striving for humanistic knowledge and competence—require a strong historical and conceptual grounding in the humanist educational ideal in the West. This effort to connect graduate education in the medical humanities with the humanist tradition is what makes our program unique.