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Course Descriptions

MHB 401 Data Ethics for Healthcare

3 credit hours               Fall Semester
Course Description: This course will provide an overview of the regulatory and ethical dimensions of doing data science within the US healthcare system. The course will cover the philosophical and technical considerations regarding ensuring fairness, privacy, consent and explainability in healthcare. One of the goals of the course is to train students to think critically about these considerations when choosing data science and machine learning techniques to apply to healthcare data. Topics may include: (1) the regulatory environment around clinical data capture and research with human subject data (2) privacy and consent to collection, (2) bias in algorithms (i.e., how can bias occur? how should we measure unfairness in algorithms that determine the distribution of healthcare/health?), (3) “explainability” in the context of healthcare, and (4) values disagreement and algorithmic medicine (e.g., how should diagnostic or prognostic algorithms be deployed, given that we disagree about the costs and benefits of algorithmic medicine?). Each week will consist of detailed discussion of a philosophical work, alongside a relevant technical case study of algorithmic medicine.

MHB 410  Clinical Bioethics

3 credit hours             Spring Semester 
Course Description:  Most ethical dilemmas in medicine arise at the bedside. Wrestling with these challenging conflicts is a core task of the clinical application of bioethics in the healthcare field. Structured around real clinical cases, this course will examine fundamental of bioethics that arise in clinical practice. Students will complete readings, writing assignments, and reflections to guide discussions around clinical cases. Students will participate in classroom activities to practice the application of knowledge and skills learned. Open to graduate students enrolled in the Advanced Certificate in Clinical Bioethics and M.S. in Health Humanities and Bioethics.

MHB 420  Stories in Healthcare

3 credit hours             Fall or Spring Semester
Course Description:  : Medical knowledge and practice depend on both science and stories to understand the complex reality of sickness. Illness and injury call on doctor and patient to make meaning together—to narrate a story that leads, ideally, to understanding, diagnosis, and treatment. This class explores the myriad ways that stories and storytelling structure medical experience, practice, and knowledge. By applying concepts from the study of fiction, we will analyze the formal components of medical narratives to understand how stories build and express meaning.  By focusing on the contexts that inform medical narratives—contexts shaped by historical configurations of culture, race, gender, class, and power (among others)—we will explore the complex web of influences that contribute to health, illness, and the success or failure of medicine. With this dual focus on contextual depth and narrative form, Stories in Healthcare aims to make students attentive and informed interpreters of stories and the patients who tell them. The course explores the ethics of telling and listening to patient stories, prompting reflection on the fundamental values informing medical care.

After an overview of narratology—the study of narrative and its structures—the class engages with several fiction and nonfiction stories drawn from various media and genres (graphic novel, film, short story, memoir, poetry, and case reports). Through weekly reading, discussion, and frequent writing, students will develop and apply interpretive skills to texts representing diverse experiences of illness and treatment.

MHB 421 History of Modern Medicine, Eighteenth Century to Present

3 credit hours                 Spring Semester
Course Description: Over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic, the rising cost of medical treatment, the opioid crisis, and the steady rollback of gender-affirming and reproductive health services have focused attention on the shortcomings of the U.S. healthcare system. This course positions these and other trends within the broader context of the history of modern medicine from the eighteenth century to the present. It will examine how the theory, practice, social effects, and cultural meanings of medicine have changed – and stayed the same – over time. Along these lines, it will explore sites of health and disease ranging from homes to hospitals; medical training and technologies; the intersections between medicine and science; the interactions between patients and medical practitioners; and the ways medicine has explained and contributed to longstanding inequities related to race, gender, class, and disability. This course will not only introduce several important themes from the history of medicine but also help to learn about historical methods. It will cover applicable skills including close reading, critical thinking, primary and secondary research, and writing.

MHB 430  Visual Arts, Values and Healthcare

3 credit hours             Spring Semester
Course Description:  In the Visual Art and Healthcare course, we explore multiple dimensions of the entwined histories of the visual arts and healthcare. The course is divided into three interconnected sections: observation, representation, and application.  Thanks to the rich cultural resources in the Rochester community, whenever possible students will engage directly with works of art. 

Observation introduces the Five Question Protocol, which focuses on developing close-looking and close-listening skills that will be used throughout the course.  Representation critically engages with depiction of disease and its experience through a diversity of media as well as engages with ethical challenges raised by selected works of art and the institutions that own and exhibit them. 

Application explores how the visual arts are used to address and promote personal and community health in a diversity of venues, including clinical and urban settings.

To ensure accuracy of course content and reinforce its applicability in both museum and clinical settings, this class is team-taught by a museum educator, a physician, and art historian. The class also includes presentations by professionals from a diversity of art and medical related fields.

The overarching goals of this course are building core skills in observation, critical analysis, and reflection. A consistent theme is discerning distinctions between subjective and objective reactions to works of art as a transferable skill with parallel application to engaging with patients, families, and professional colleagues.

Original works of art are the focus in this course, serving both to introduce students to building skills of engagement with the original objects themselves and as a gateway to exploring complex issues in healthcare. While the subject matter of the art is not explicitly medical, with specifically chosen objects and themes, students engage with such critical healthcare related issues as informed consent, how personal values influence interpretation, how an institutional context can inform interpretation, and how to identify and address potential biases than might influence attitudes and potentially judgment. 

MHB 431 Clinical and Translational Research Ethics

3 credit hours               Spring Semester
Course Description: Translational research involves bringing insights from basic and clinical research to fruition as new interventions, therapies, policies, or practices. The research pathway often involves teams of researchers, including clinicians, basic scientists, data scientists, policy experts, and clinical trial coordinators who work at the boundary of research and clinical care. Often, the principal investigators in these teams work in multiple roles: as both clinician, researcher, and (potentially) policy advocate. Navigating these competing roles involves balancing different goals, which may generate conflicts between duties. For instance, clinicians may attempt to enroll their own patients into a clinical research trial. Likewise, researchers working to evaluate public health interventions may also act as policy advocates for policy changes. Translational researchers must therefore think carefully about how to balance their responsibilities as researchers with their responsibilities to care for patients and community members.

MHB 440  History of the Body

3 credit hours             Fall or Spring Semester
Course Description:  This course will provide students with a grasp on the fluid ideal of the “normative” human body throughout history; it will also provide them with a toolkit for writing, at the graduate school level, rigorous historical work that focuses on the body and its discontents. Students will consider the body from an interdisciplinary perspective, looking at the different ways in which the body has been conceptualized and represented in medicine and culture throughout historical periods and in different geographical areas. These scientific, bioethical, philosophical, and cultural conceptualizations of the body have had and continue to have significant implications for patients and for the scientists and clinicians who study the body and who provide care. Throughout the fourteen themes explored this semester, students will learn to question and disassemble the binaries, categorization methods, and social constructions of the body.

MHB 450  Master’s Research Methods

3 credit hours             Fall Semester
Course Description:  This is an introductory graduate course in research design, methods, data collection, and practices in the health and social sciences. The course will enhance students’ literacy as both a consumer and producer of research. The course is intended to provide a broad foundation for more advanced graduate course work in research methodology and data analysis.

MHB 472 Philosophical Foundations of Bioethics

3 credit hours                 Fall Semester
Course Description: This course addresses a range of philosophical and ethical questions arising in the context of human health. The first part of the course orients students to core methods in philosophical bioethics, including the practice of philosophical reasoning, and explores the differences between philosophical inquiry and other methods in the health humanities and bioethics. The second part of the course discusses the philosophical questions most relevant to medical practice, with a major focus on the concept (and limits) of patient autonomy. We will discuss questions such as: What is “health”? What is “disability”? What is the distinction between killing and letting die? The third part of the course introduces the foundational ethical principles of clinical bioethics—autonomy, beneficence and justice—and explores their philosophical underpinnings. It will discuss questions like: What conceptions of autonomy are involved in respecting a patient’s refusal of life-saving treatment? What values and principles should guide us when we make decisions for others? The final part of the course addresses the ethics of healthcare organizations and systems, with a major focus on theories of justice. We will discuss questions such as: What is it to be disabled? Do we have a right to health? Who should pay for our healthcare? Does the quality of a person’s life matter when allocating scarce resources?

Through the sustained study of philosophical texts and methods, this course will examine fundamental philosophical concepts and ethical principles that guide the practice of clinical bioethics. Students will complete readings and writing assignments in order to prepare for classroom discussion that practice the development and critique of philosophical arguments in the context of bioethics. This course is open to graduate students enrolled in the Advanced Certificate in Clinical Bioethics and M.S. in Health Humanities and Bioethics.

MHB 473 Unsafe America: Accidents, Disasters, and Society, 1800-2020

3 credit hours                 Fall Semester
Course Description: According to data from the National Safety Council, unintended injuries cause over 224,000 deaths and 62,000,000 cases involving medical attention per year across the country. Since the nineteenth century, “accidents” from car crashes to the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster have become increasingly central to American life. This course charts the history of accidents and explains why U.S. society has chosen to control some risks but not others. We will explore how accidents have changed over time alongside the introduction and diffusion of new technologies; cultural beliefs about safety; the political and economic interests of specific stakeholders; and the efforts of experts, corporations, nonprofits, families, and the government to keep the public safe. On one level, the course follows the unforeseen effects of modern industry, transportation, infrastructure, and consumer products. On another, it demonstrates how the ideals of personal responsibility and free enterprise continue to influence the safety movement. Using injuries as a lens, we will combine history with technical communication and public policy. In this course, you will also learn skills including close reading, critical thinking, primary and secondary research, and writing.

MHB 480  The Disabled Body in Medicine and Culture

3 credit hours                Fall Semester
Course Description:  Throughout much of modern medical and cultural history, bodily difference has been categorized as disability—as a problematic deviation from standards of normalcy and health. This legacy has been fiercely debated and contested in recent years, with much disagreement about the category’s usefulness in medical contexts and beyond. This course will explore different perspectives on disability through works of modern culture, and primarily through literature, television, and film. We will investigate the traditional medical model of disability, and explore what changing understandings of disability mean for the future of healthcare and the relationship between healthcare providers and patients. The course is writing-intensive, and requires students to share and workshop their papers with peers.

MHB 482 Clinical Ethics & the Law

3 credit hours              Fall Semester
Course Description: This is a course about laws relating to clinical bioethics with a focus on New York State. The course introduces the language and concerns of the laws that impact patient care, including the United States Constitution, the New York State Constitution, and legal rules (legislation and case law) that govern relationships between hospitals and individuals, specifically hospital employees caring for patients. The course will focus on the topics that most frequently arise in the setting of patient care, including the history and evolution of these laws. While this course does not directly address legal authority or political philosophy, an important theme of this course is restrictions of individual autonomy and the justifications.

MHB 497  Capstone Practicum

3 credit hours             Spring Semester
Course Description:  Health Humanities and Bioethics are constantly developing fields where the scholarship and research aspects continues to evolve. Capstone Practicum projects are diverse by topic and method and provide an opportunity for students to work independently with the guidance of a Capstone advisor, department faculty and content experts. Students learn to apply knowledge from the health humanities and bioethics disciplines to a question or issue in contemporary healthcare as an academic, research, or scholarly project. Students identify a topic of research or scholarship, and work with an advisor from the department to develop a project plan that culminates in a presentation to the department, including their peers in the program. A Master’s program is a first step towards a graduate level of scholarship and the Capstone Practicum project is a first attempt to generate independent project ideas, work independently and engage with a topic in a particular health humanities and/or bioethics area of interest.