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Voices of U of U Health

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At the Intersection of Art, Humanities, and Health

The arts and humanities play a critical role in health education. 

Exposure to literature, visual and performing arts, philosophy, and law develops well-rounded practitioners equipped to provide compassionate care, while also caring for themselves and their colleagues.

Early and Ongoing Engagement

The Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities at the University of Utah incorporates arts and humanities into teaching medical knowledge and skills. Gaining a better understanding of human experiences, prepares learners better for difficult situations like delivering a life-altering diagnosis or grappling with ethical issues.

Engaging learners in these experiences early in their education can be valuable. The center is partnering with the Department of Philosophy and College of Humanities to offer a new undergraduate major in medical humanities, starting in 2025. 

We also provide ongoing trainings for our professional teams. For example, our interrupting bias workshops apply interactive Forum Theatre techniques to explore and address conflicts in health care settings.

Gretchen Case with Joni Aoki (MD 2024) and the artwork Aoki created from a physician’s white coat in Case’s elective course “Art in Medicine/Medicine in Art.”
Gretchen Case with Joni Aoki (MD 2024) and the artwork Aoki created from a physician’s white coat in Case’s elective course “Art in Medicine/Medicine in Art.”

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

After three decades of being housed within the Department of Internal Medicine, the Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities became a university-wide resource in 2021. The center supports cross-collaborations like Healthcare Stories, a partnership between the center and UtahPresents and the U of U Health Resiliency Center.

Held at Kingsbury Hall, this annual event brings together patients, caregivers, and health care professionals to share personal journeys of discovery and healing. Clinical priorities can overshadow the humanizing aspects of health care. These storytellers inspire community through their shared reflection.

The center also works closely with the Arts and Health Innovation Lab. The lab studies how artistic practices can be integrated into health care and community settings, like using arts-based therapies to improve individual care and public health.

Community Voices and Perspectives

We engage the wider community through virtual and in-person programming and events, including:

  • Literature & Healthcare — A monthly program facilitated by U faculty to explore health-related themes through discussion of books, films, essays, and plays.
  • Ethics Explored — A multidisciplinary discussion series led by local and national experts to address current issues in health care ethics. A recent event discussed health care inequalities faced by Black Americans and invited community participation.
  • Rubor is our literary and arts magazine, founded by U medical students. It accepts submissions from patients, staff, faculty, students, and trainees across U of U Health.
  • Another annual publication, Voices from the Faculty, features 55-word stories reflecting on challenging moments in medicine. 

Through multi-faceted programming, we aim to foster dialogue, creativity, and understanding around health care experiences and topics.

Cover art for Rubor, literary and arts magazine at University of Utah
Painting by U medical school alum Phoebe Draper, MD, appears on the cover of Rubor, a literary and arts magazine founded by medical students at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine.

Immersive Learning Opportunities 

The TRUE program allowed me to take medical students into rural communities. They interacted with families living with the impacts of serious disabilities. With a grant from the Utah Developmental Disabilities Council, I collaborated with students to produce videos documenting these visits. The videos highlight the ethical dilemmas and daily obstacles resulting from health care disparities in underserved areas of Utah.

This immersive experience motivated students to continue pursuing research and educational initiatives. They feel compelled to take action on these public health challenges, whether presenting findings at conferences or developing training curricula for medical residents. These experiences deepen their understanding and provide realistic scenarios to hone their advocacy skills.

Short-term creative endeavors like this can catalyze lasting breakthroughs. While modest in scope, they represent meaningful strides towards health care access and solutions for under-resourced communities.

Gretchen Case, Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell (Theatre) and Karly Pippitt (Family Medicine) discuss CRITICS
From left to right: Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell (Theatre), Karly Pippitt (Family Medicine), and Gretchen Case discuss CRITICS, a research project that explores using theatrical techniques to improve nonverbal communication in difficult health care conversations.

Harnessing Utah's Unique Strengths for Health Care Innovation

As the only academic medical center in Utah, we want to have a bigger cultural impact across the region. Utah's unique culture and geography make it a great place for art, humanities, and health to converge.

We want institutions, educators, and policymakers to see how much arts and humanities benefit our medical providers. By embracing the full range of human experiences in education and training, Utah is uniquely positioned to be a national leader in health care transformation.

Creating an environment that values inspiration, creativity, and expression moves us toward a future where we do more than treat people—we connect, understand, and heal.

Gretchen Case, with glasses and brown hair.

Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

Gretchen Case is an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and the Department of Internal Medicine (adjunct) and Director of the Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities at the University of Utah. Her research and teaching interests focus on the intersection of humanities, health care, and education. Case is also a public historian, specializing in the histories of science and medicine. She received an MA in communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a PhD in performance studies from the University of California, Berkeley.  

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