WUN Health Humanities initiative: towards the development of the patient-centred and compassionate Health Professional through education

The gap between patient expectations and the performance of health professionals appears to be widening. The time has come for a compassionate medicine that puts the patient at the core of their own healthcare and where collaborative inter-professional teamwork that facilitates effective and holistic care is promoted. Health Humanities is a rapidly evolving field that provides an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the meaning of health, illness and disease for patients in the context of the social worlds in which they live and work. Health Humanities, which includes the fields of narrative medicine, history of medicine, culture studies, technology, medical anthropology, medical sociology, philosophy, literature, the arts and music; focuses more on meaning-making than measurement.  Health Humanities, by bringing humanities scholars together with clinicians, educators and medical scientists, is highly innovative and will make a significant impact in shaping the future direction of healthcare for our communities.


Worldwide, Health Humanities in the context of educating health professions, is increasingly seen as a vehicle to provide a balance between the dichotomous teaching of the sciences and the critical and reflexive skills health professionals need. Engagement with creative practices is now being considered essential for future health professionals who will need to think flexibly, be innovators, design creative solutions to institutional gridlocks and exercise sound judgement. Since 2005 some 50 programs in health humanities have commenced in the US and 25 in the UK.  While the popularity of these programs is growing, much of the development relies on committed individuals rather than being core in curricula. The impact of health humanities during training and in professional practice is complex and under-researched with even fewer studies of health humanities in the baccalaureate level programs. Internationally, there are several Centres and Institutes focused on the study of Health or Medical Humanities including WUN Members Cape Town, Maastricht, and Alberta, each with a difference focus and who are not currently working together.

With the commencement of the first Australian undergraduate major in Humanities for Health and Medicine at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in 2019, it is timely and appropriate for UWA to bring together experienced researchers and educators to form an international WUN Health Humanities research collaboration to substantiate the rationale for including humanities as core material in health professions curricula.


The focus of this project is to:

1. Design an evaluation framework to assist health professions education providers at WUN universities to describe, using a consistent approach, the learning processes and core learning outcomes in health humanities teaching.

2.Conduct an international, multi-centre, collaborative study including all WUN partners that will

validate the developed framework through analysis of international health humanities curricula both in the pre-health baccalaureate level and selected medicine, nursing and allied health courses.

3. Describe to what extent initiatives and courses in Health Humanities at WUN universities are effective in shifting graduate attributes.

The team will be led by the Professor Sandra Carr (UWA) with senior-level advisory from Professors Steve Reid (Capetown), Dr Claire Hooker (Sydney) and Pamela Brett-Maclean (Alberta) and external advisory from Professor Jane MacNaughton (Durham).

Understanding Cultures

Global Higher Education and Research

Public Health