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Art Illustrates The Very Real Impacts of Health Care Policy For First-Year Students

The 112 first-year students in Professor Adam Eickmeyer’s "Perspectives On Health and Healthcare" class are all Health Sciences Scholars Program students. As prospective physicians, social workers, nurses, researchers, administrators, and policymakers, the students meet together with Eickmeyer, and in team-based groups, to interrogate critical issues facing the health professions, such as concerns about access to high-quality care and improving equity across the board. 

Art Illustrates The Very Real Impacts of Health Care Policy For First-Year Students

Written by Olivia Ordoñez

“Most of the class focuses on health disparities, population health, and different identity groups and how they experience health and healthcare,” Eickmeyer said. 

“Despite what students may have grown up thinking, our healthcare system is a challenge for the majority of people,” Eickmeyer said. 

He hopes his class and the new partnership with UMMA helps students to think about the fact that “Our healthcare system is one of the worst in the developed world and undoubtedly the most unequal in the developed world,” he said.

Eickmeyer, who has training in public health with a strong liberal arts bent, has been working to incorporate more of the humanities into the class for years.

In previous years, students have learned from graphic novels, such as Taking Turns by MK Czerwiec, a nurse, about her experiences on an HIV/AIDS care unit. But because of the opportunity to collaborate with Curriculum/Collection this year, now students will be engaging with art from UMMA’s collection to understand the sometimes devastating effects of the healthcare system on individual people’s lives.

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How did this person die because they couldn’t get the last $50 they needed on their GoFundMe? The arts and the humanities broadly really help students see that these are not just data points. They are stories of real people.

Profesor Adam Eickmeyer

“How did this person die because they couldn’t get the last $50 they needed on their GoFundMe? The arts and the humanities broadly really help students see that these are not just data points. They are stories of real people,” Eickmeyer said. “It also shows students, unfortunately, these stories are not uncommon in the United States. The arts have been a good way for them to see the same outcome but presented in different ways.” 

“I am trained in public health, in which we think about big populations and large datasets and trends across time. But for us, and especially for people who are going to be providing one-on-one care for patients, we really can’t lose sight of that individual experience and how, even when we’re looking at this big population health data, the experiences along the same trends can look very different for people. What I have found through my teaching is that using the humanities and the arts have been really good tools to expose students to these ideas in a way that they’re not getting in their pre-med curriculum. With the arts, students remember the human-centered, patient-centered, approach to thinking about healthcare and zoom in to the individual-level on the big issues.” 

As for what students will do with the art, Eickmeyer said, “Students are going to get credit for visiting the gallery and writing a reflection on one of the pieces. Additionally, they’re also going to create some of their own art or multimedia pieces.”

Ultimately, Eickmeyer hopes that students learn that, although they can improve health outcomes and equity through policy changes, much work is needed in other societal areas, and in their interpersonal practice, in order to achieve the necessary widespread change. 

“Even if you fixed the policy aspects of our healthcare system and gave everyone access to healthcare services, there would still be so many stark disparities because of broader social issues, such as racism and homophobia and the carceral state,” Eickmeyer said. “So, we need people to be thinking about the health policy issues, of course, but we also need to be thinking about broader trends.” 

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