Augustana Launches Medical Humanities and Society Minor as Spotlight Continues to Shine on Ethics in Medicine

Hannah DeWild ‘21, a nursing and Spanish double major, also plans to minor in medical humanities and societies offered at Augustana this fall.

Augustana University student Anna Boyens ‘21 is a biology and Spanish double major on the pre-med track, who will soon add medical humanities and society to her areas of study this fall.

“When Augustana announced it (the minor), I thought, ‘That is exactly what I’ve wanted from the start. This is what I need,’” said Boyens. “I think it speaks to Augie as a whole with the liberal arts because it is such an integration of so many different disciplines.”

The addition of the 18-credit medical humanities and society minor was among the goals set forth in Augustana’s strategic plan Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030. The new program will allow students to better understand what it means to be human — to become informed about current issues in healthcare and medicine. The minor will also require students to examine the complexities of illness, health, medicine and healthcare.

Boyens said, “In medicine, yes, you need to know the science, yes, you need to know the medical terminology, but there is so much more to your patients.”

The Sioux Falls native says she has learned throughout her time in college that there are so many ethical decisions she could potentially face as a pediatrician — from her professors; her mother, Dr. Beth Boyens ‘90, who is an assistant professor of English at Augustana; and her father, Dr. Scott Boyens ‘90, who is a family medicine physician at Sanford Health and a member of the Primary Care Team at Augustana. Boyens says she has seen her father carry these ethical struggles, from vaccinations to end-of-life care, home. 

“I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has caused more people to think about what they want regulated in terms of their healthcare and what they want left alone. My Augie education has heightened my own awareness of ethical issues, which has made watching this pandemic unfold really interesting for me,” said Boyens.

With the help of this minor — which offers undergraduate students an interdisciplinary curriculum — Augustana seeks to further shape how students preparing for careers in healthcare can use a foundational understanding in the natural sciences and integrate it with the humanities and social sciences. 

Professor of Religion Dr. Ann Pederson, Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jennifer Gubbels, and Professor of History Dr. Peg Preston, worked closely for several years in order to offer this minor to students.

Gubbels said, "The value of Augustana is that we give our students more than just skills. You hear a lot about the importance of "skills" and less about the importance of the liberal arts. This program is a fantastic example of how we are not only equipping students with skills to be successful in their job, but also in how to handle an ethical decision that they are going to have to make at some point working in healthcare. The medical humanities and society minor will provide them with the tools they will need to think through ethical dilemmas, and will enhance their primary major (nursing, biology, sociology, etc.) to provide excellent, well-rounded care."

While medical humanities programs are “popping up everywhere,” Pederson said, “The one thing Augustana will bring, I hope, is the emphasis of a faith-based institution, and by that, I don’t mean just Christian, but infusing spirituality and religion and public life and ethics together — that holistic approach.”

For upper-level students, faculty members are also finding ways to retrofit the minor into their schedules — not something every institution is willing or able to do for its students. This is the case for Hannah DeWild ‘21, an Augustana nursing and Spanish double major, who is also minoring in religion. As an intern who is shadowing an ethicist at Sanford Health and sitting in on their Ethics Council, she was hoping it wasn’t too late to add the minor to her already extensive resume.

Before introducing the minor, Augustana’s Office of Assessment and Institutional Research conducted a feasibility study that showed a more than 28 percent increase in the number of healthcare-related job openings between 2017 and 2027, with 133 annual openings in Lincoln and Minnehaha counties alone. Within a 300-mile radius of Sioux Falls, the study indicated a more than 26 percent increase in the number of job openings with this type of program in the same 10-year time frame, with more than 2,500 annual openings. Because of the high demand for health care jobs in the future, Preston, Pederson and Gubbels are confident that this minor will be popular with students who are looking to widen their perspective within their chosen discipline. 

“Hannah is a great example of the opportunity to be able to add this to a very skilled nursing major, an example of how various this minor is, how majors can be paired to enhance future careers. We also want to emphasize the need for this with journalism, sociology and even education students,” said Preston.

Program Questions: Contact Dr. Ann Pederson, professor of religion.

Media Inquiries: Contact Jill Wilson, public relations and communications strategist.