Augustana launches medical humanities minor as spotlight shines on ethics in medicine

Aug. 11, 2020

This paid piece is sponsored by Augustana University.

Augustana University student Anna Boyens, a member of the class of 2021, is a biology and Spanish double major on the pre-med track who will soon add medical humanities to her areas of study this fall.

“When Augustana announced it (the minor), I thought, ‘That is exactly what I’ve wanted from the start. This is what I need,’ ” Boyens said. “I think it speaks to Augie as a whole with the liberal arts because it is such an integration of so many different disciplines.”

The addition of the 18-credit medical humanities and societies minor was among the goals set forth in Augustana’s strategic plan Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030. The new program will allow students to better understand what it means to be human — to become informed about current issues in health care and medicine. The minor also will require students to examine the complexities of illness, health, medicine and health care.

“In medicine, yes, you need to know the science, yes, you need to know the medical terminology, but there is so much more to your patients,” Boyens said.

The Sioux Falls native said she has learned throughout her time in college that there are so many ethical decisions she could face as a pediatrician — from her professors; her mother, Dr. Beth Boyens, class of 1990, who is an assistant professor of English at Augustana; and her father, Dr. Scott Boyens, class of 1990, who is a family medicine physician at Sanford Health and a member of the primary care team at Augustana. Boyens said she has seen her father carry home these ethical struggles, from vaccinations to end-of-life care. 

“I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has caused more people to think about what they want regulated in terms of their health care and what they want left alone. My Augie education has heightened my own awareness of ethical issues, which has made watching this pandemic unfold really interesting for me,” Boyens said.

With the help of this minor, which offers undergraduate students an interdisciplinary curriculum, Augustana seeks to further shape how students preparing for careers in health care can use a foundational understanding in the natural sciences and integrate it with the humanities and social sciences. 

Professor of religion Ann Pederson, associate professor of biology Jennifer Gubbels and professor of history Peg Preston worked closely for several years to bring this minor to students.

“The value of Augustana is that we give our students more than just skills. You hear a lot about the importance of skills and less about the importance of the liberal arts,” Gubbels said.

“This program is a fantastic example of how we are not only equipping students with skills to be successful in their job but also in how to handle an ethical decision that they are going to have to make at some point working in health care. The medical humanities minor will provide them with the tools they will need to think through ethical dilemmas and will enhance their primary major (nursing, biology, sociology, etc.) to provide excellent, well-rounded care.”

While medical humanities programs are “popping up everywhere,” Pederson said, “the one thing Augustana will bring, I hope, is the emphasis of a faith-based institution, and by that, I don’t mean just Christian but infusing spirituality and religion and public life and ethics together — that holistic approach.”

For upper-level students, faculty members also are finding ways to retrofit the minor into their schedules — not something every institution is willing or able to do for its students. This is the case for senior Hannah DeWild, a nursing and Spanish double major, who is also minoring in religion. As an intern who is shadowing an ethicist at Sanford Health and sitting in on its ethics council, she was hoping it wasn’t too late to add the minor to her already extensive resume.

Before introducing the minor, Augustana’s Office of Assessment and Institutional Research conducted a feasibility study that showed a 28 percent increase in the number of health care-related job openings between 2017 and 2027, with 133 annual openings in Lincoln and Minnehaha counties alone. Within a 300-mile radius of Sioux Falls, the study indicated a 26 percent increase in the number of job openings in the same 10-year time frame, with more than 2,500 annual openings.

Because of the high demand for health care jobs in the future, Preston, Pederson and Gubbels are confident that this minor will be popular with students who are looking to widen their perspective within their chosen discipline. 

“Hannah is a great example of the opportunity to be able to add this to a very skilled nursing major, an example of how various this minor is, how majors can be paired to enhance future careers,” Preston said. “We also want to emphasize the need for this with journalism, sociology and even education students.”

To learn more about the medical humanities and societies minor, visit

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Augustana launches medical humanities minor as spotlight shines on ethics in medicine

“I thought, ‘That is exactly what I’ve wanted from the start. This is what I need.’ ” When history, biology and religion came together at Augustana, a new minor that couldn’t be more timely was born.

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