Medical humanities program embraces Christian heritage, holistic care

The Baylor Sciences Building is where Baylor students go for the Medical Humanities Program, as students learn to understand the human experience of patients and practitioners. Lilly Yablon | Photographer

By Caitlyn Beebe | Reporter

Medical humanities students at Baylor go beyond scientific mastery to better understand the human experience of patients and practitioners, according to program director and chair Dr. Lauren Barron.

“[Medical humanities] is a recognition that it takes more than science alone to take good care of patients,” Barron said.

Barron said the medical humanities program encompasses the four interdisciplinary pillars: history, philosophy, literature and theology. It draws together clinicians from diverse professional backgrounds, including public health professionals, dentists and nursing home chaplains.

Barron said Baylor’s Christian identity aligns well with the study of medical humanities, as the programs at secular universities often omit discussing spirituality, religion and the human soul.

“At Baylor, we are able to reclaim that Christian voice in health care,” Barron said. “We don’t have to hide or ignore or skip over our Christian heritage.”

Barron said the first hospitals and hospices resulted from early Christians following Jesus’ command to care for others. She said Christian practitioners must recognize the dual importance of the spiritual and the physical, just as Jesus preached the Gospel while healing others.

“To be able to hold out hope for wholeness and healing even in the face of death is something that’s uniquely Christian,” Barron said.

First-year Truett seminarian Molly Shoemaker said she found her calling to health care chaplaincy as an undergraduate in the medical humanities program. In her junior year, she shifted her focus from medical school to ministry.

“The calling was still medicine,” Shoemaker said. “It was just ministry in medicine.”

Shoemaker said Barron helped her discern her care for people who are suffering and her interest in religion and medicine.

“It’s looking at this intersection of spirituality and medicine and health care, both for providers and for patients,” Shoemaker said.

The medical humanities program emphasizes taking care of patients as whole human beings. Shoemaker said they bring their spiritual, social and psychological lives to the table when they interact with the health care system.

“You can’t just attend to their bodies, because they’re not just bodies,” Shoemaker said. “They’re whole people.”

In her own experience practicing medicine, Barron said she saw how patients often experienced depression and anxiety following hospital stays. She said the health care system sometimes fixates on patients’ physical symptoms while forgetting to address their mental health concerns.

“I hope that my students with a medical humanities background are going to be more in tune with the psyche and the soul,” Barron said.

Barron teaches a supervised clinical medicine class, and every week, her students shadow different health care professionals in Waco, including oncologists, hospice workers and obstetricians. One student even witnessed an open-heart surgery while shadowing an anesthesiologist, she said.

Ultimately, Barron said the medical humanities program emphasizes interdisciplinary knowledge.

“None of us work alone,” Shoemaker said. “You can’t be a good physician unless you’re also working well with your nurses and your physical therapists and your chaplains and social workers and administrators. This is a team effort. It requires a lot of people to care well for the patient.”

Barron said medical humanities students pursue careers not just as physicians but also as health care administrators, physical therapists and legal advocates for disabled people.

“These are the people who are out there today who can help change the health care system,” Barron said.