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Program Requirements

The Master of Arts in Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics is obtained under the Graduate School. The degree is completed with 30 credit hours (ten courses). Four of these courses are required and the other six may be selected from the approved elective curriculum, including two that may be taken outside the department. It can be earned in one to five years.

Required Courses

HCB 501: Compassionate Care, Medical Humanities, and the Illness Experience

This course will introduce students to major interpretations of the illness experience, to several classical biographical and autobiographical accounts of illness, and to the important dynamic of compassionate care in the healing relationship. The patient-as-person will be emphasized throughout, as well as the ways in which respect for and empathy toward the patient impacts diagnostic accuracy, patient adherence, and patient and professional satisfaction. Some emotional dynamics of the illness experience will be addressed, such as hope, through the work of eminent physician-writers such as Jerome Groopman, MD. The dynamics of medical mistakes and forgiveness will be explored through psychiatrist Aaron Lazarre’s influential writings on effective medical apologies. Some philosophical and metaphysical aspects of personhood and self-identity will be introduced.

HCB 502:  Landmark Cases in Bioethics

What is a life worth living? How do we decide—and who decides—when to use medical technologies such as incubators, ventilators, transplants and reproductive technologies? This is an intensive introduction to some of the cases in medical ethics that have changed the ways that we are born, cared for, and die in American hospitals. Examples of topics include: vaccination and public health; eugenics and human subjects research ethics; the right of privacy and health care; end-of-life planning and treatment; women’s bodies and fetal rights; disability rights; religious beliefs and health care; triage and allocation of scarce resources; mental illness and individual rights; global clinical trials; and, bioethics and culture.

HCB 503:  Traditions and Values in Bioethical Conflicts

This course serves as an introduction to Western moral and religious traditions and to the positions about killing, saving, and enhancing that these traditions have informed. It explores the interface between religion and biomedical ethics and then delves into specific issues in health care in light of more general normative concerns such as justice, love, autonomy and rights, utilitarianism, self-sacrifice, gender, virtue, and community. The issues with which the course deals address the plights of real people, in the concrete, who come from particular backgrounds and whose set of values may make them sometimes recalcitrant to possibilities that technology has made (or is just now making) available.

HCB 599:  Capstone Course

This course, to be offered in the second (spring) semester, is designed to satisfy the “special projects” requirement of our program. The first part of the course will be devoted to readings and discussions that further illuminate the methodologies of the interdisciplinary field of medical humanities, compassionate care, and bioethics. Students will develop an appreciation for the standards of high quality scholarship and research through review of carefully selected readings. This will prepare them for the second part of the course, where they pursue and present their own research based on the existing literature. This “capstone” course will be highly collaborative, entail substantial peer review, and be organized around the development of significant student projects which are intended to represent the beginnings of publishable papers. Our entire faculty will be involved in these projects according to their specific areas of expertise.


Students must take 18 credits (6 courses) from the list of approved electives, of which two courses (6 credits) may be chosen from courses around the university, known as Outside Electives.*

* Subject to Program Director approval