Ask Kylie Smith why the humanities are important to health care, and she will tell you that the answer is in the word itself.
“To administer effective health care, you have to be able to understand humans and their complexities,” says Smith, an associate professor at the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. “Many health care problems we are trying to fix are caused by historical or policy issues, so you really can’t get the whole picture if you are not thinking about how it got this way.”
To that end, Smith is leading an effort to launch a Center for Healthcare History and Policy in the School of Nursing – with the aim of solidifying the place of the humanities in health care education and research.
“To address disparities in health and move towards greater justice in health care, we need deep thinking and leadership from a variety of disciplines,” says Linda McCauley, dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. “The center will help operationalize this effort, and the lives of individuals and communities will be better for it. We are proud and pleased to support the creation of this initiative.”
The center will bring together Emory scholars and students from various disciplines who are seeking to understand the impact of history, legislation, and policy on health outcomes and the factors that affect health care delivery, especially to marginalized populations. The center will create discussion forums, enhance collaborative grant application and publication initiatives, and host research events. Other activities include working with faculty on curriculum, supporting student projects, establishing service-learning partnerships, and developing continuing education opportunities.
In this work, the center will espouse a historically informed, “bottom-up” view of health care where patients are the experts, and their experience of life and health is used to enhance approaches to care.
“Nursing is not just about being at the bedside,” says Smith, a historian who also serves as an Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow for Nursing and the Humanities and an associate faculty member in Emory’s history department. “Nurses are agents of social change and have been historically. But if you don’t know that and if you are not taught tools from the humanities – like sociology or history or even creative writing and the arts – then how are you going to connect to people and how are you going to bring change to the world? That’s my big pitch for the humanities – understanding humanity.”
Smith thinks that the work of the center will be attractive to and important for students, whom she observes are already concerned about disparities, injustice, racism, and exclusion. “I think that a center that is specifically aimed at understanding this history is going to bring so much context to the work that students and faculty are already doing,” she says.