SDHC Grantee Laying Groundwork for Medical Humanities in South Dakota

New Project Combines Studies of Humanities, Medicine

Could the seemingly disparate studies of medical science and humanities be combined to create a comprehensive approach to human wellness?

A South Dakota scholar and medical educator is working on doing just that.

"Shaping Medical Humanities in South Dakota," a recently completed project funded by a $10,000 grant from the South Dakota Humanities Council, is what project director Peter Hoesing calls a "conceptual launchpad for USD's emerging medical humanities program."

Medical humanities is a "multi-disciplinary, interprofessional field of inquiry driven by the notion that health professionals treat humans, not mere bodies," according to Hoesing, a member of the ethics and humanities faculty at the University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine.

"Shaping Medical Humanities in South Dakota" is a collaboration between Hoesing, also an SDHC scholar, and Ellen L. Schellinger, Director of the Sanford School of Medicine's DeGroot Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and the Healing Arts. While they focused on humanities and humanistic social sciences, Ari Albright and Rebecca Froelich of Creative Care, LLC contributed to the arts component of the project data collection. The grant's goal was to create a needs assessment and an asset map to shape the future of medical humanities in South Dakota.

"To the best of our knowledge, 'Shaping Medical Humanities in South Dakota' will offer the first comprehensive, systematic assessment of medical humanities resources and needs across the entire state of South Dakota," Hoesing said.

USD's emerging medical humanities programming aligns the mission of SDHC and other humanities organizations — the exploration of the human condition — with the exploration of modern medicine and healing.

"Medical humanities nurture interpersonal skills, develop practitioner emotional intelligence and resiliencies, promote community engagement, and provide insight into the practice of medicine in modern healthcare," Hoesing and Schellinger said.

Broad Collaboration

With the project completed, the Sanford School of Medicine now has a unified planning resource to guide the development of medical humanities programming in South Dakota.

Hoesing believes in creating a stronger future for the humanities and science — often considered opposite areas of study — through this approach.

"We cannot connect and collaborate with each other until we have a basic awareness of each other; on the contrary, with some mutual understanding and interdisciplinary listening, we can build new collaborative possibilities," Hoesing said.

Hoesing and Schellinger drew on their training in humanistic social sciences, integrative medicine, and the arts to create an inclusive roster of experts, including the following:

  • physicians
  • healthcare and health education administrators
  • community champions
  • academics
  • visual artists
  • arts administrators
  • arts in health professionals
  • music therapists
  • creative and expressive art therapists who use a variety of methods in their work
  • institutions
  • arts organizations
  • museums
  • galleries
  • practitioners of integrative and traditional medicine whose work intersects with art disciplines
Map by GIS specialist Thomas Nello White

A sample image from the asset map created by GIS specialist Thomas Nello White for the "Shaping Medical Humanities in South Dakota" grant project. 

What Can Be Accomplished?

Connection is the first step in moving healthcare towards a comprehensive approach to mind/body wellness. That's what the map is for.

"When it comes to human resources, South Dakota has untold riches, but these remain somewhat disparate and disconnected across a geography that can often make sustained connection challenging," Hoesing said.

By exploring the healing power of music therapy, art therapy, and integrative medicine — and connecting practitioners of these humanities-related practices with practitioners of medicine — Hoesing hopes to move towards better health outcomes. Plans are in motion to do just that.

"Now that the Sanford School of Medicine has a better view of the rich asset pool and some of the existing and emerging needs for medical humanists statewide, one of the most important next steps we can take is to build this visibility into a more holistic plan of action that will propel medical humanities through the next three to five years and beyond," Hoesing said.

That plan, informed by the patients, physicians, and medical students who live and work in South Dakota, will include three main areas:

  • curriculum and scholarship/research at Sanford School of Medicine
  • community engagement
  • efforts to improve physician/healthcare provider wellbeing and resilience

Hoesing is excited to develop "an emerging track within the Sanford School of Medicine that promotes active scholarship and curricular innovation."

Learn More

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