Medical Humanities Minor

The Medical Humanities minor offers students the opportunity to explore health, illness, and medical care in their varied historical, philosophical, aesthetic, and socio-political contexts. Students and faculty bring a variety of backgrounds and aspirations to the minor. Together, we deploy humanistic methods to investigate enduring questions. What is illness? What is health? What does it mean to heal? How is disease socially constructed? How do inequalities of race, class, and gender affect the experience of illness and access to care? How does biomedicine relate to other forms of medicine? How do the answers to these questions vary across time and place, whether in the contemporary U.S. or ancient China? These are just some of the core questions that drive our studies.

The minor offers a wide variety of courses, ranging from the ancient world to the present and across the world. Opportunities for small-group and independent learning abound. The minor is structured to be flexible and students will find it easy to chart a course of study that helps them explore established interests as well as develop new ones.

Why minor in Medical Humanities?

  • A recent report by Hiram College suggests the myriad benefits of Medical Humanities studies for pre-health students. Compared to STEM majors, pre-health humanities students do equally well on the MCAT, perform just as well or better in medical school and residency, have a higher chance of earning academic honors, and do better in clinical research and performance. They exhibit greater empathy with others, better communication skills, and excel at patient-centered care.
  • Recent graduates of the Wash U minor report very high levels of satisfaction with their experience, speaking of it as "transformative" and the "highlight of their college career." They value the small classes, close interaction with faculty, and the opportunity to explore health, illness, and healing from a variety of perspectives. Many have gone on to top medical schools. Others are exploring careers in areas as varied as public policy, journalism, and higher education.

Headline image: “The Metaphorical Virus” (May 2020) by Angela Chen is a visual representation of metaphors in the COVID-19 pandemic, where subjective judgments follow the objective virus in its shadows. Chen (Class of 2023) is a writer and illustrator for Frontiers and is majoring in biochemistry. 

Medical Humanities Advisors & Executive Committee


Rebecca Messbarger
Director of the Medical Humanities Minor
Professor of Italian; Affiliate Professor of History, Art History, Global Studies, Performing Arts, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Wendy Love Anderson
Academic Coordinator for the Medical Humanities Minor
Assistant Director of Academic Programs, Center for the Humanities

Faculty Executive Committee

Chair, Rebecca Messbarger (Romance Languages & Literatures)

Jennifer Arch (English)

Barbara Baumgartner (Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies)

Elisabeth Brander (Becker Medical Library/History for Center of Medicine, ex officio)

Amy Cislo (Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies)

Lionel Cuillé (Romance Languages & Literatures)

Kristina Kleutghen (Art History & Archaeology)

Steven Meyer (English)

Patricia Olynyk (Director, Graduate School of Art)

Anya Plutynski (Philosophy)

Christina Ramos (History)

Luis Alejandro Salas (Classics)

Corinna Treitel (History)


Why Study Medical Humanities?

The history of medicine is embedded in the DNA of contemporary medical science and medical practice, argues Rebecca Messbarger, a cultural historian of early modern medicine and one of the founders of the medical humanities minor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Study Abroad with Medical Humanities

With the advance approval of a minor advisor, Medical Humanities Minors may take one 300- or 400-level course abroad for up to 3 credit hours toward the minor. The Medical Humanities Minor has approved study abroad at:

WU Summer Pre-Med Program in Nice (see program website)
Prerequisites: 3.0 GPA minimum; two years of college level French or the equivalent and enrollment in a French course during the semester prior to departure.

Andean Studies Summer Program in Peru
Prerequisites: 3.0 GPA minimum; completion of Spanish 307 by the start of the program. Previous coursework related to Latin America, development, or health encouraged but not required.

Global MedPrep Program via WU in Shanghai (fall semester; see program website)
Prerequisites: 3.0 GPA minimum; sophomore, junior or senior standing; previous Chinese language study or prior coursework in Asian Studies is recommended. Global MedPrep Scholars applicants must complete an interview process.


Medical Humanities Minors who are interested in a program not on the above list may also meet with their minor advisor and request approval to count a single course from another WU-approved study-abroad program toward the minor. Dr. Anderson is the Study Abroad Advisor for Medical Humanities.


Please contact Dr. Wendy Love Anderson, assistant director of academic programs, Center for the Humanities, with questions about the Medical Humanities minor.