“What are you doing your Master’s in again?” An insight in to Medical Humanities

Medicine and humanities. Two subjects typically on opposite ends of the academic spectrum but fused together at the University of Manchester to create one, unique postgraduate degree. To explain more about the course we asked current student, Amy Turner, to give us the lowdown…

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I am currently coming towards the end of my one-year master’s degree in Medical Humanities. The course can be taken as a stand-alone MSc, or as an intercalated year for medical students. Students on the course are not limited to medics and this year has included participants with undergraduate degrees in drama, linguistics and English (me!).

The MSc is based at the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM). The course is interdisciplinary in nature, allowing students to combine knowledge from different subjects in order to complete interesting research topics. The first term is spent completing three necessary units, Major Themes in Medical Humanities, Creative Approaches in Healthcare Practice and Communicating Ideas in Science, Technology and Medicine. This is followed in the second semester with the Medicine, Science and Modernity CHSTM course unit as well as an additional total of 30 credits from affiliated subjects across the university.

My optional units included a module from the history MA, Gender, Sexuality and the Body as well as a module from the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Crisis. Each of my chosen subject areas has encouraged me to think critically in diverse and interesting ways, allowing me to formulate original ideas for my essay topics.

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Explaining what my course is to others is always quite fun since it is a little obscure. The term ‘Medical humanities’ has a bit of a vague and complicated history and has been a victim to conflicting definitions. The academic arena of medical humanities is largely underpinned however by the ‘recognition that the arts, humanities and social sciences are best viewed not as in service or in opposition to the clinical and life sciences, but productively entangled with ‘biomedical culture’’[1], demonstrating the possibility for interdisciplinary collaboration. At master’s level, however, it is an amalgamation of anthropology, sociology, history with some creative challenges thrown in for good measure in order to inspire thought-provoking ideas.

Coming from a humanities background with research interests in the history of disease and illness (I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the history of epilepsy), I found starting the program to be a natural progression, with the diverse nature of the course allowing me to quickly develop my own niche interests. I am particularly interested in the history and social politics of mental health and I am writing my master’s dissertation on the perceptions of using self-technologies, such as yoga and reading, in order to alleviate the symptoms of mild common mental disorders.

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One aspect of the course that I have particularly enjoyed is the engagement with creative platforms throughout the first semester that I previously had little experience engaging with. For the Creative Approaches unit, rather than completing a conventional essay, we had to formulate a creative journal, taking inspiration from workshops that are ongoing during semester one. I completed a short story, paintings and sketches, as well as attempting poetry. Despite my previous background in English, I have mainly demonstrated an interest in academic analysis, using critical thinking. However, this year has offered a fantastic opportunity to not only learn more about my various research interests but has additionally encouraged new passions, acting as a year for genuine personal development.

Overall, the MSc Medical Humanities programme has been an incredible opportunity to expand my research interests, improve my ability to think critically and meet a group of interesting people from a range of academic backgrounds.

[1] William Viney et al, ‘Critical medical humanities, embracing entanglement, taking risks’, Medical Humanities: BMJ Journal, Vol.41 No.1 (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2015-010692, accessed June 2019


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