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.

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.

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.

Medical Humanities Alumni Spotlight: Skyler Kessler

Medical Humanities Alumni Spotlight: Skyler Kessler

Fall Newsletter for Medical Humanities Minor

"2021-22 was an eventful year for the undergraduate program in Medical Humanities," writes Director Rebecca Messbarger. Learn about our community's projects and accomplishments from this past year, exciting new initiatives, and catch up with our alumni.

Read More Here

Our People

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

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Practical Benefits of Specializing 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. Hear from our alumni here.

Additional Resources


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