As of Fall Quarter 2019, a new certificate program, the Medical Humanities Certificate, is being offered through the Professional and Continuing Education extension at UC Santa Barbara, giving pre-medical students the opportunity to build a foundation in a different area of study: the humanities.

One goal of the program is to help future physicians fight a common affliction in doctors: burnout. Sam Rankin / Daily Nexus

According to its website, the new Medical Humanities Certificate provides students with a “foundation in humanities which can lead to increased empathy, more understanding of historical and social contexts of disease, and a better resiliency to burnout.” 

Dr. Jason Prystowsky, the certificate coordinator, said the program quickly came together after a “year of strategic planning.” He explained that he and his colleagues saw a need for humanities in the medical field, for the benefit of both pre-medical students and their future patients. 

“There’s kind of an existential threat, almost, of young professionals who have an incredible command of the science and technical expertise and are brilliant and creative but don’t understand the power of narrative or social context, or how poverty is related to health,” he said

Prystowsky said the certificate is well-designed to compliment pre-medical students’ schedules, and it gives students the freedom to pursue sub-specialties of the humanities that interest them and relate to their career goals.

To obtain the certificate, students must take two extension courses in the fall and spring quarters, in addition to ten units of approved UCSB electives from various disciplines that relate to the certificate material, according to the website.

“It’s not a major, it’s not a minor, it’s a certificate,” Prystowsky said. “So students who have a very robust science and lab schedule can squeeze it in.” 

The fall quarter course for the program, Introduction to Medical Humanities (INT X410), is currently taught by an interdisciplinary team of nine university faculty members, according to Prystowsky. 

While the certificate courses have a different teaching format from the required classes for pre-medical students, the classes use readings and films that are catered specifically toward pre-medical students, Prystowsky said. The curriculum for INT X410 even includes watching an episode of the television series “Scrubs,” which Prystowsky believes offers a great view of popular culture narratives surrounding medicine. 

“We will not give you a book to read or a lecture that does not have the intent of making you a better physician one day,” Prystowsky said. 

The second class, to be offered for the first time in Spring Quarter 2020, is Medical Humanities in the World (INTX 411). The class will focus on how the humanities can be directly applied to the medical field, exploring topics such as spirituality, mortality and structural racism. 

“Every different community is going to have a different way of looking at health, and a different narrative and have a different historical context,” he said.

Another goal of the program is to equip future physicians with the ability to fight a common affliction in young doctors: burnout. Part of the spring quarter course, INTX 411, will focus on preparing students to be resilient in their future professions, Prystowsky said.

“In a lot of ways, burnout is compassion fatigue,” Prystowsky said. “I think having a better understanding of historical context, cultural appreciation, poetry, art and literature, is another tool in that toolbox that young physicians can use to thwart burnout.” 

While Prystowsky said students pursuing the certificate do have to pay for the extension classes — though fundraising for the new program is in progress — students are encouraged to pursue Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA) scholarships to offset costs; a 50% discount was also offered to all UCSB students for INTX 410 this fall, according to the certificate website.

A medical humanities curriculum is currently required at 69 out of the 133 accredited medical schools in the country, and Prystowsky believes future medical students will benefit from building a foundation during their undergraduate time at UCSB. 

“There is value in giving students exposure to it before they set foot in a medical school campus. We’re planting seeds.” 

A version of this article appeared on pg. 5 of the Oct. 17, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.