Health studies minor brings new science opportunities to LC

Professor Detweiller-Bedell created the minor to create a pathway for students that aspire to work in healthcare.
Photo by Jo Tabacek

Lewis & Clark faculty approved the new health studies minor in April, with classes beginning this fall semester. The class of 2022 will be the first to graduate with a minor in health studies. Professor of Psychology Jerusha Detweiller-Bedell created the minor in order to prepare LC students who are seeking careers in healthcare administration, public health and healthcare policy or general healthcare. The minor embraces the liberal arts curriculum, using a holistic-teaching through a narrative approach. 

“Medical schools are looking for students who are well-rounded and are trained not only in looking at the physiological basis but also the stories the patients bring and the narrative that they tell,” Detweiller-Bedell said. “They are also looking for strong writers, good collaborators, essentially an LC student.” 

Psychology major Isabelle Couch ’22 is minoring in health studies while pursuing a pre-medicine path. 

“I am interested in helping the healthcare system with diversity,” Couch said. “The health studies minor is going to give a lot of background to the racial and ethical side of medicine that biology and chemistry does not talk about.”

The minor focuses on a statistical and narrative approach that will prepare students for beyond LC with a curriculum spanning across many subjects. Classes fulfilling the minor are drawn from various departments, including sociology and anthropology, psychology, mathematical sciences, rhetoric and media studies and chemistry. 

For example, the course called Medicine, Health and Culture that has long been taught by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Sepideh Azarshahri Bajracharya will fulfill a requirement within the minor. This course emphasizes both Western and non-Western approaches to healing, diagnosis processes and symptoms. According to Detweiller-Bedell, the class strongly represents the minor’s purpose. 

“The spirit of her class is captured in the minor,” Detweiller-Bedell said. “The idea that it is not just one lens, one perspective that we take when we ask questions about our health and well-being.”

Most students pursuing the minor are psychology majors and committed to going into a medical profession. However, the health studies minor is open to all students. The variety of unique classes can cater to anyone’s interests. 

“Equally, (the minor) is designed for your English major who is also interested in health-related questions,” Detweiller-Bedell said. 

For the upcoming spring semester, a Renaissance medicine course will be offered, taught by the Aubrey R. Watzek Library’s Head of Special Collections and College Archives Hannah Crummé. The class will delve into the beliefs, culture and science behind Renaissance medicine by looking at topics across medieval Europe, such as how the plague affected developments in medieval Europe and how scientific advancements slowed due to fear of witchcraft.

“There are so many different individual faculty across LC who are passionate about something health-related but may only have time to teach one type of class,” Detweiller-Bedell said. “To organize for students who have a similar interest in health, a series of different types of classes and opportunities to bring it all together is exciting.”

Health studies faculty are also working with Overseas and Off-Campus Programs to develop study abroad opportunities that will begin in the spring of 2023 as an option for the minor’s capstone requirement. Another opportunity to fulfill this capstone requirement includes interning at a health-related setting in Portland.

COVID-19 has drawn LC students to the power of public and global health in real-time. Professors are adjusting their course curriculum to the context of COVID-19. A new course specific to the health studies minor, Public Health, taught by Associate Director of Health Studies Carolyn Zook, will immerse students into the work of public health officials by using a series of case studies from the COVID-19 pandemic. Health studies faculty plan on offering a course in the fall of the next academic year called Epidemiology, which will focus on studying the spread and mitigation of infectious diseases by using the COVID-19 pandemic as a context. In Detweiller-Bedell’s Health Psychology course this semester, students were able to take an online John Hopkins University course for COVID-19 contact tracing certification. 

Alexa Myer ’23 was motivated to continue the health studies minor due to the pandemic. Initially, Myer planned on pursuing a career in orthodontics but is now focusing on public health with an emphasis on infectious diseases. 

“I was interested in the minor beforehand, but the global pandemic has affected my peers and I,” Myer said. “Therefore, I am even more interested in the exploration of infectious diseases.”

Another new installment that the minor is bringing to the LC community is the Center for Community and Global Health, directed by Zook and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Students and faculty will move outside of the classroom to assist and collaborate with local organizations and institutions such as Write Around Portland, the Northwest Medicine Collective, Roosevelt High School and Inside Out. The objective of the center is to help those outside of LC’s community who are struggling under social pain.

Although the health studies minor is new, it is already expanding the horizons for LC and students interested in health and well-being. Led by Detweiller-Bedell, Zook and other faculty members, the minor will encourage students who have a general interest in public health and are invested in an interdisciplinary approach to medicine, health and the sciences.

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