Medical humanities program brings diverse offerings to pre-health students


Grace Wagner

Students walking across campus
UNO students have another option for pre-health studies. Photo courtesy of UNO Communications

“I chose medical humanities because I want to be a doctor, and I believe that a person is more than just a person when it comes to their health,” said Christine Jacha, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “They bring culture, life experiences, spirituality and other complexities of life.”

Jacha is one of the 20 students majoring in medical humanities through UNO’s program that launched this fall. Another 125 students are minoring in the subject, said Steve Langan, program director and community liaison. In addition, 52 UNO faculty members across various disciplines, like psychology and English, are teaching in the new program.

The program came out of a student need for more learning opportunities and richer instruction in medical humanities, Langan said. In 2015, his colleague, Michele Desmarais, helped establish the medical humanities minor at UNO, Langan said. Once Jeffery Gold became the UNO’s interim chancellor, a group of UNO faculty members saw an opportunity to expand the pathway of medical humanities for students, Langan said, because of Gold’s experience in public health and pediatric surgery. Gold also serves as UNMC’s chancellor.

The campus worked jointly with UNMC to create the program and build a smooth transition for pre-health students, said Beth Culross, from UNMC’s College of Nursing. The senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UNO wrote a document to promote a medical humanities center as a collaboration between the two campuses, Culross said.

Faculty members from more matured medical humanities programs at Baylor University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Iowa and the University of Oklahoma also provided guidance and direction with the development of UNO’s program, Langan said.

McKensi Uecker, a junior at UNO, minored in medical humanities for several years before deciding to major in the program once it became official in the fall, she said.

Uecker’s “vital” courses in the program helped her to see a worthwhile future in health care.

“I feel like I have learned so much about how to interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds,” Uecker said. “I have already been inspired by a lot of the courses I have taken, and I have no doubt that I will expand my interests as I continue to complete the major.”

Culross explained how medical humanities provides a new perspective for medical students about how to combat challenges in the health care professions.

“There has been an increase in providers leaving their chosen professions due to burnout, dealing with anxiety, depression, and unfortunately leading to suicide in some cases,” Culross said. “Medical humanities can integrate the liberal arts and social sciences to benefit how providers learn to care for others and themselves.”