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Johns Hopkins adds new interdisciplinary major: Medicine, science, and humanities

Concentration will give undergraduates a chance to pursue natural sciences and humanities rather than having to choose one or the other

Johns Hopkins University's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences has launched the medicine, science, and humanities major for students who want to examine medical and scientific issues through the lens of humanities studies. The new interdisciplinary major gives JHU undergraduates the chance to pursue the natural sciences and the humanities, rather than having to choose one or the other.

Beverly Wendland, interim dean of the Krieger School, says the major was created in part to help close the polarizing gap between the sciences and the humanities.

"Given our academic strengths, Johns Hopkins is ideally suited to create a course of undergraduate concentration that focuses on the intersection of medicine, science, and the humanities," Wendland says. "In the rapidly changing landscape of higher education in the 21st century, interdisciplinary approaches are needed to promote intellectual innovations and will forge productive connections between scientific and humanistic cultures."

The new major is expected to attract students who plan to pursue careers in the health professions as well as those interested in issues of importance to science and medicine, and students who plan to pursue graduate work in a range of humanities and social science disciplines. The major does not fulfill all premedical requirements, but advisers will work with students regarding additional needed course work. The new major also will serve students interested in a humanistic approach to science as the foundation of their liberal arts education.

"It is only recently that medicine, science, and the humanities have become separated and siloed," says Charles Wiener, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and interim director of the new major. "Professions such as medicine recognize that future physicians must be more humanistic with additional skills in critical analysis, communication, and teamwork. The new MCAT being introduced this year addresses these cultural changes. The expectations of incoming medical students are becoming much broader to include cross-cultural studies, ethics, philosophy, and a range of humanities studies—all with the goal to produce more well-rounded physicians."

Recently approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the major requires students to take a core introductory course that is taught by a team of humanities professors. The course provides a foundation in a selection of the many disciplines that make up the field of humanities relevant to medicine and science.

William Egginton, vice dean for graduate studies at the Krieger School and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, spearheaded the effort to create the major. He says students who graduate with it will "demonstrate awareness of how the sciences and medicine are called upon to answer fundamental human problems."

Graduates in the major also will have attained an intermediate level of proficiency in a language other than English, the ability to deploy research methodologies in one of the humanistic disciplines, and the capability to critically evaluate how medical institutions and practices interact with a culture's beliefs and values.

So far, more than a dozen incoming freshmen and several current freshmen have expressed interest in pursuing the major.

"I'm not at all surprised at the considerable interest being shown for the major," Wiener says. "I look forward to meeting these students and sharing the details with them. Our new major is a reflection of the Krieger School's mission to create new knowledge through research and scholarship. Like the humanities, science and medicine are essentially interpretive, creative endeavors, and the new major celebrates that integral connection."

For more information, contact Professor William Egginton at egginton@jhu.edu

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