Defining Health Humanities

This section offers descriptions and definitions of health humanities, medical humanities, art and humanities in medicine, and the CIP code.

Health/Medical Humanities is a broad, transdisciplinary field that unites practicing health professionals, traditional humanities scholars, artists, writers, and humanities and social science students, as well as pre-health and health professions students. The Health/Medical Humanities explores the human condition and its intersection with health, illness, and healing through the lens of the humanities and its methodologies as a means of interrogating the history and culture of medicine; exploring embodiment, selfhood, and sociality; and preparing aspiring professionals in health-related fields to be discerning participants in the healthcare arena and astute, caring advocates for those they serve.  

Health Humanities relies on transdisciplinary research to examine the intricate relationship between the human condition and health.  The applied humanities are rich with subjective human experiences that can provide future health professionals with windows into the fragility of health, the US healthcare system, global health, and the human consequence of medical intervention, or lack thereof.  Through these windows, Health Humanities can stoke the imagination of students by describing health, illness, or health disparities in their sociocultural-historical context using storytelling, literature, blogs, fine arts, visual arts, and/or historical documents.  Health Humanities challenges students to hear, and seek to understand, a plethora of diverse perspectives that do not necessarily concur with their viewpoints (Blackie and Lamb 491).  Health/Medical Humanities pedagogy promotes learning skills in communication, listening, observation, self-reflection, and comfort with ambiguity which are critical in healthcare, for professionals and patients/clients alike.

There is no single, determinative definition of the Health Humanities.  However, following are two definitions of the Health Humanities, a definition of Medical Humanities, the American Association of Medical College’s (AAMC) working definition of the arts and humanities in medical education, and the U.S. Department of Education Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) code description. 

Health Humanities Consortium – Definition of the Health Humanities (2021)

The Health Humanities is the study of the intersection of health and humanistic disciplines (such as philosophy, religion, literature)  fine arts, as well as social science research that gives insight to the human condition (such as history, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies.)* The Health Humanities use methods such as reflection, contextualization, deep textual reading, and slow critical thinking to examine the human condition, the patient’s experience, the healer’s experience, and to provide renewal for the health care professional.
*Adapted from the National Library of Medicine’s definition for Medical Humanities.

Research Methods in Health Humanities, Edited by Craig M. Klugman and Erin Gentry Lamb (2019)

The health humanities is a …field concerned with understanding the human condition of health and illness in order to create knowledgeable and sensitive health care providers, patients, and family caregivers.  As a field the health humanities draws on the methodologies of the humanities, fine arts and social sciences to provide insight, understanding, and meaning to people facing illness including professional care providers, lay care providers, patients, policy-makers and others concerned with the suffering of humans (p. 3).

AAMC – The Fundamental Role of the Arts and Humanities in Medical Education

A working definition of the arts and humanities in medical education:  Content or pedagogy derived from arts and humanities and integrated into the teaching and learning of medical students, trainees, and practicing physicians.  The approaches and experiences with this education are often interprofessional, interdisciplinary, and co-designed to teach and sustain diverse competencies for better health outcomes for patients, communities, and populations (Howley et al. 4).

Medical Humanities: An Introduction, Thomas R. Cole, et al.

Medical humanities is a multi- and interdisciplinary field that draws from many disciplines to examine issues related to the development and practice of medicine and health care…has an essential practical component because all medical humanities knowledge carries implications for the care of patients, the professional development of students, the continuing education of physicians and residence, and/or the health of populations (pp. 7-8). 

Detail for CIP Code 51.3204

Medical/Health Humanities: A program that explores the ethical, historical, literary, philosophical, and religious dimensions of medicine or health. Includes instruction in art, cultural studies, economics, ethics, history, literature, medical anthropology, philosophy, religion and spiritual thought, science and technology, visual art, and writing.


  • Blackie, Michael, and Erin Gentry Lamb. 2014. “Courting Discomfort in an Undergraduate Health Humanities Classroom.” In Health Humanities Reader, edited by Therese Jones, Delese Wear and Lester D. Friedman, 490-500. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Cole, Thomas, Nathan Carlin, and Ronald Carson. 2015. “Introduction.” In Medical Humanities: An Introduction, edited by Thomas Cole, Nathan Carlin and Ronald Carson, 1-20. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • HHC. 2021. “About.” Health Humanities Consortium. Accessed July 14.
  • Howley, Lisa, Elizabeth Gaufberg, and Brandy King. 2020. The Fundamental Role of the Arts and Humanities in Medical Education. American Association of Medical Colleges (Washington, DC).
  • Klugman, Craig M., and Erin Gentry Lamb. 2019. “Introduction: Raising Health Humanities.” In Research Methods in Health Humanities, edited by Craig M. Klugman and Erin Gentry Lamb, 1-11. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • NLM. 2019. “Medical Humanities.” National Library of Medicine. Accessed August 30, 2021.

How to Cite This Document

Health Humanities Consortium. “Defining Health/Medical Humanities” HHC Curricular Toolkit. August 2021.

© 2021 Health Humanities Consortium. The HHC gives permission for this text to be used in part or in whole for the writing of any health humanities related proposal without attribution to this source.

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