Health care sector jobs are predicted to dominate the economy in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry is projected to grow at an expansive rate with the creation of 2.4 million new jobs between now and 2026. These jobs will run the gamut from health care delivery professions (e.g., physician, nurse, physical therapist, pharmacist); to medical support and auxiliary personnel (e.g., EMT/Paramedic, health information technician, nutritionist); to those who support and manage health care systems and organizations (e.g., hospital administrator, volunteer programs coordinator); to every aspect of health care improvement and innovation (e.g., clinical researcher, bio-tech engineer, pharmaceutical sales and marketing); to an array of wellness fields (e.g., health educator, yoga therapist, athletic trainers), to myriad opportunities and needs in health care law, public policy, and advocacy.
For example, it is expected that digital health tech catering to out of hospital settings will grow by 30% by end of 2019 (Forbes). The number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to double to nearly 100 million by 2060, opening up numerous markets for at-home care and elderly assistance (Forbes). As the industry grows, so does the need for discerning and ethically grounded practitioners and professionals. Beginning in fall 2019, the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts will offer two, new interdisciplinary minors in health studies: one in bioethics and another in health and society.
The bioethics minor will critically engage students in the goals of medicine, the responsibility of science, as well as the importance of reflecting on and debating issues that arise from health care advances. “Health and science literacy – especially when it comes to ethical dilemmas in health care and research – is increasingly important, and so students with an interest in these topics and who have a strong humanities background, would find the minor in bioethics useful,” says Gianna McMillan, program administrator in BCLA’s Bioethics Institute.
The health and society minor trains students in the social, economic, and cultural contexts of health. Courses will examine the organization and financing of health care, how culture informs practices related to medicine, and how people experience illness in their everyday lives, to name a few. “Having a solid foundation in the social determinants of health, in addition to knowledge of how our health care system is organized and how health care is delivered in other countries, is advantageous for students pursuing graduate training in the health professions, or positions in health policy and advocacy,” says Rachel Washburn, associate professor of sociology and director of health and society.
Both minors prepare students to address real-world issues with training in public debate and discourse, as well as ethical and cultural competencies. In the field of bioethics, one area of medical research that is generating a lot of interest and conversation is the use of CRISPR – Cas9 genomic editing technology on human subjects. “A bioethics minor equips students with a basic understanding of the medical science behind cutting-edge technology, then shows them how to implement a principlistic moral framework to evaluate specific cases, and finally analyze bioethical issues in light of deeper existential questions,” says Nick Brown, visiting assistant professor and director of the bioethics minor.
The health and society minor also helps prepare students to discuss factors that shape the health of the most vulnerable members of society. Students will study how macro-level forces such as education policies, housing programs, and labor laws lead to disparate health outcomes for different groups in society. “Having a solid understanding of how health is impacted by these macro-level social forces is critical to reducing health inequalities and promoting health across populations,” says Rachel Washburn. “As we face new problems like the opioid overdose crisis or outbreaks of infectious diseases, having a firm grasp of how social conditions give rise and contribute to such problems will be critical in developing effective and lasting solutions.”
The minors in health and society and bioethics draw on insights from multiple disciplines and will deepen students’ convictions, broaden their horizons, and prepare them for meaningful work in the world. “One of our hopes is that the [bioethics] minor will contribute to the ‘civic consciousness’ of our students, as they become aware of ethical differences in society, and confront the need for dialogue on the most challenging questions of our humanity,” says Roberto Dell’Oro, professor of theological studies and director of BCLA’s Bioethics Institute.
We are all health care consumers related to our personal needs, as well as those of family and friends. For this reason, basic health care literacy as part of a well-rounded liberal arts education is useful and will also prepare our students for success in these growing and emerging career pathways.