CWRU launches Medicine, Society and Culture track in bioethics

CWRU female medical student smilingGood health involves more than hard science.

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act acknowledged this reality by encouraging engagement in patients’ social spaces.

Two years later, the people responsible for the national medical school admissions exam showed they recognized it too, adding a section on social and behavioral sciences.

Now Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Bioethics is staking its own claim in the realm, launching Medicine, Society and Culture (MSC), a new track within its existing master’s degree program.

“Research overwhelmingly shows that factors beyond biology play an enormous, often decisive role in the well-being of individuals and communities alike,” said Associate Professor of Bioethics Eileen Anderson-Fye, director of the MSC track. “This program provides a unique, interdisciplinary approach to understanding how such factors evolve, interact and ultimately affect experiences and outcomes.”

The new degree track starts in August and is accepting applications now. Undergraduates can enroll through the Integrated Graduate Studies (IGS) program and earn both a bachelor’s degree and this one. Graduate and professional students, meanwhile, can take the new track along with an existing degree program—for example, with an MD, or a JD, or a master’s degree in social work or nursing. It also can be taken as a standalone degree, to be applied immediately to a professional setting or as a potential step toward a terminal degree.

“Ethical, social, and cultural issues are deeply intertwined in questions of health and illness,” said Mark Aulisio, the Susan E. Watson Professor and chair of bioethics. “This track will give students the opportunity to explore these issues from multiple intellectual perspectives.”

The new program follows last year’s addition of the option of a medical humanities pathway for Case Western Reserve medical students, as well as recent dramatic growth of interest in such master’s degree programs nationwide. The University of Rochester launched a master’s degree in medical humanities program that also welcomes its first class this fall; the University of North Carolina’s inaugural class in the Literature, Medicine and Culture master’s degree began last fall; and Vanderbilt University enrolled its first master’s degree students in Social Foundations of Health in 2014. Other institutions have more longstanding offerings, but also report significant recent increases in enrollment.

Case Western Reserve, however, brings the broad strengths of a top-25 medical school with a century-long record of educational innovation, an eighth-ranked nursing school graduate degree program, a ninth-ranked graduate degree program in social work, and a ninth-ranked program in health law. The MSC degree track also has an advisory committee that includes faculty from across the university.

In addition, Anderson-Fye said, the track benefits enormously from being located in bioethics. The department’s faculty and programs long have been recognized widely for excellence; the master’s in bioethics itself dates back to 1995. Like that degree program, the new MSC track will include clinical placements. These opportunities—in hospitals, research offices and more—will allow students to see firsthand how subjects studied in class can play out in practice.

“Health care commands so much attention in our society because it touches each of us in multiple ways, from our own interactions with caregivers to national developments affecting access, medical decision-making, and overall costs,” Anderson-Fye said. “Our graduates will have the knowledge and experience to help address some of the most challenging questions of our time.”

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