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A Liberal Arts Approach to Health Care

Research & Inquiry


Published December 18, 2023

We need more innovative models of health support delivery, like hospital at home. It reduces costs, is patient-centered, and appears to support patient recovery in several ways, including reducing toxic stress and providing patients with a sense of control over their environment. All of this enhances the healing process.

Acute-care patients having the option for treatment at home is a step in the right direction toward having better culturally tailored delivery. We can bring together anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, philosophers, psychologists, and other researchers—a liberal arts perspective—to make sense of what sickness, healing, and support mean to people, and then adapt or create, test, and improve upon current models.

The way that we think, feel, and act can amplify our experience and disease progression at a cellular level, and the families, social systems, and neighborhoods that surround us have a huge impact on how we see the world. If you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have sidewalks, your physician telling you to walk more is not going to be meaningful. We must be mindful about this when creating building codes and public policies, because these are also essentially health policies as well.

There is so much frustration among medical professionals because of the way they are forced to compromise how they treat patients, including having to defer to insurance company rules. The hospital-at-home model allows medical professionals to practice health care and medicine more effectively. It’s that idea of autonomy—not only for patients but also for practitioners—that is so exciting.

I keep coming back to a liberal arts perspective. From across academia, we need the American studies folks, the cultural studies folks, the filmmakers, the mathematicians, the historians, the engineers—to name a few—to make their unique contributions toward transforming American sick care into truer health care. How we train future practitioners at the undergraduate level—making liberal arts perspectives fundamental to prehealth education—can truly make a difference in shaping our systems.

A professor of psychology at Smith, Benita Jackson directs the college’s Society, Psychology, and Health Laboratory.