I am delighted to have been invited by King’s College to a roundtable discussion on the topic of the role of non-medical professions in the medical and health humanities. This is a topic that has been hotly debated on this blog, most recently in relation to Nicola White’s post Where are the Nurses? and in the context of our ‘Practice and the Practitioner’ cluster. It’s also been raised by Paul Crawford to support a sharp distinction between the health and medical humanities. If you would like to share your views on this important topic, please feel free to use the comments section below and I will be happy to feed them through to the roundtable and report back on those discussions here.

The Role of Non-medical Professions in the Health Humanities:
A Roundtable Discussion
King’s College London, Council Room
June 12, 2012 18:00-19:30

Hosted by Dr. Jessica Howell and Rachael Renaud for the ‘Re-reading Nursing’ Research Group; featuring Professor Brian Hurwitz, Professor Anne Marie Rafferty and Dr. Angela Woods

The goal of the Wellcome Trust funded Centre for the Humanities and Health is ‘to uncover the diversity and complexity of voices pertaining to illness and disease embedded in cultural activities and products’. To this end, a roundtable discussion is convened to address the voices of non-medical professionals (nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists and allied health professionals) and the roles they play in the Health Humanities. The speakers also will be asked to address how Health Humanities methodologies and research methods can best ‘uncover’ and study these voices.

The speakers will address the facilitators’ questions for one hour, followed by half an hour of discussion. Please join us afterwards for a wine reception. If you would like to attend, or for further information, please email Jessica Howell. For more information download the The Role of Non-Medical Professionals in the Health Humanities Flyer.


Gavin Miller · May 25, 2012 at 9:21 am

It’s great to see such a strong effort, which I hope will be successful, to displace the physician as the prototype of the health worker. I do have a caveat, though, which emanates from our ongoing medical/health humanities work at Glasgow University.
I think that discussing the “voices” of “non-medical professionals” is still very much within the comfort zone of medical/health humanities. The focus is on the professional worker, who may be distinguished by a sense of vocation (ideally), extended training and education, semantic as well as physical labour (cpd, case records, working for or with professional journals) — and I’m sure we can come up with a few more fuzzily defining characteristics. The metonymy of “voice” also invites us to think about a plurality of competing professional identities, and, of course, diversity then invites recognition (“giving voice to” silenced or repressed identities).
This is all very well (and will, I think, be a very valuable line of work), but the model fits poorly with non-medical non-professionals in the health humanities. I’m thinking of those who do work within healthcare but who may have little sense of calling (who feels a calling to clean toilets and floors?), who may be motivated solely by financial incentives, who may feel alienated from their labour (they are fungible “components” of organization), and who have little investment in an identity based around work. Here at Glasgow we’ve been very emphatic in our medical humanities research about the need to use sociologically distinct categories for this group.
A further advantage of thinking this way is that the paradigm feeds back into consideration of the health professions themselves. It may be heuristically fruitful, shall we say, to think of health professionals as motivated not only by a secularised vocatus, but by utilitarian motives — as “workers”, in other words.

Angela Woods · May 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Thanks so much Gavin for your comment. I whole-heartedly agree about the need to think differently about ‘non-medical’ and ‘non-professional’ roles, and will be interested to learn more about how your work at Glasgow, especially w/r/t to the sociological categories, develops in this respect. Responses so far from around the CMH here have been to draw attention to three broad areas: the role of policy and policy makers as key protagonists in the health sphere whose work has tended to be overlooked in the medical humanities (but not, say, in related social science fields like medical/health geography); the ways in which teachers, educators, urban planners etc are increasingly becoming responsible for implementing health policy and achieving certain health outcomes; and theorising the ‘arts in health’ practitioner. It promises to be a very lively roundtable with potential, no doubt, for these issues to be opened up for much wider debate down the track.

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