What is Health and Society?

Health and illness are central aspects of human experience that are deeply shaped by cultural, political, and economic conditions. Health and Society is a cutting-edge area of interdisciplinary scholarship that examines the social drivers behind historic and contemporary patterns in health and disease. Scholars in the field take a critical approach to studying how societies define what it means to be healthy or sick, why some groups suffer disproportionate burdens of disease and premature death, how culture shapes the delivery of health care, and how individuals experience illness in their everyday lives. The curriculum of the Health and Society minor employs a variety of disciplinary lenses to examine these areas, providing students with the ability to critically engage with and formulate solutions to some of today’s most pressing health problems.

What Do Health and Society Minors Do?

The highly interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to equip students to pursue thoughtful and ethically engaged careers in medicine, public health, health policy, health advocacy, and related fields. Students take five courses beginning with Introduction to Health and Society. This course introduces students to important conceptual frameworks in Health and Society and prepares them for interdisciplinary coursework. Students select the remaining four courses based on their interests from a list of approved courses offered through departments and programs including Bioethics, Biology, Health and Human Sciences, History, Film and Television Studies, Psychology, Sociology, and Women and Gender Studies.

Is This Minor Right for You?

If you are interested in people and how health is shaped by culture and the organization of society, then Health and Society might be the right minor for you. The minor is especially well suited to “prehealth” students who are interested in broadening their knowledge and deepening their skillset before pursuing medical school or other health sciences degrees. It is equally appropriate for students in the liberal arts seeking preparation for careers in public health, health policy, and health advocacy.

Our goal is for students to be transformed by the curriculum through developing new skills and a new awareness of the connections between the physical and social foundations of health. Health and Society students gain key competencies in how social forces (e.g., culture, policies, racism, and class structures) shape health, in specific historic and current efforts to improve the health of populations, and in how to gather and analyze information related to health topics. They also gain the ability to engage in rigorous and thoughtful interdisciplinary scholarship.

The following topics are addressed in the minor:

  • Health disparities and health justice
  • History of medicine and disease
  • Healthcare financing and organization
  • Media representations of the body, health, and disease
  • Gender and health
  • Health advocacy and community organizing
  • Ethical principles that shape clinical practices
  • Cultural constructions of health and illness
  • Individual experiences of health and illness
  • Patient-provider communication
  • Interventions aimed at reducing suffering and disease

About Our Faculty

Our faculty members come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, but share the scholarly goal of situating health, disease, and the body in social, cultural, and historic contexts. We seek to promote research and/or creative activities that advance our understanding of the ways in which social forces shape health and disease. All of the faculty participating in the minor are engaged scholars with active research agendas on a variety of topics related to health and disease. Our faculty publish their findings in a range of venues and frequently present their research at conferences and invited talks in their areas of expertise.

About Our Students and Graduates

Students minoring in Health and Society come from a variety of disciplines across the university but are bound by a shared interest in approaching health and disease through an innovative and interdisciplinary lens. Our students strive to live “lives of meaning and purpose” and express a deep curiosity about the under-appreciated social drivers of health and disease. Many of our students seek to apply the skills they gain through the Health and Society minor to careers in medicine, nursing, public health, health policy, law, health advocacy, and other related fields.

Representative Courses

Courses that fulfill the Health and Society Minor include the following:

  • Epidemics and Infectious Diseases
  • Introduction to Bioethics
  • Communication and Healthcare
  • Public Health
  • Science, Nature & Society in the West
  • Health and Disease in American Culture
  • Poverty and Community Resilience
  • Science, Medicine, and Media
  • Sociology of Health and Illness
  • Sociology of Aging
  • Health and Social Justice
  • Drugs and Society
  • Community Psychology
  • Women, Health, Bodies, and Sexualities
  • Health Services for Marginalized Populations

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