The history of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor University is rooted in a specific and special course entitled Literary and Philosophical Perspectives on Medicine. First offered in 1992, this course was taught by three immensely popular professors, each bringing a reputation for outstanding scholarship and teaching mastery to the classroom from their respective disciplines. Dr. Ann Miller from English, Dr. S. Kay Toombs from Philosophy, and Dr. William Hillis from Biology were good friends and colleagues who had many conversations over the years about the need for more collaborative teaching and the possibility of an educational experience built on their shared expertise.
Meanwhile, two academic directives were simultaneously gaining traction at a national level--one from higher education and one from medical education. As a university with a reputation for its outstanding premedical program, Baylor University had a vested interest in both. In higher education circles, the lack of interdisciplinary courses and the absence of collaboration among academic units in universities was identified as a critical fault. Recommendations were made and various initiatives and programs were introduced as a corrective. Coincidentally, agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities favored the development of interdisciplinary projects and grant proposals in the university setting.
From the realm of medical education, a similarly glaring lack of exposure to the arts and humanities among medical students was increasingly apparent and generating significant concern. The Association of American Medical Colleges began encouraging medical schools to recruit applicants with more of the arts and humanities in their baccalaureate background, a dramatic departure from the stereotype of a premedical student as either a biology or chemistry major. Medical schools began to recruit students whose transcripts contained but did not consist entirely of science courses, looking for the student with a more fulsome education that included the liberal arts.
Baylor University’s concrete response to these national educational trends was to develop a course specifically intended to give premedical students the opportunity to widen and deepen their exposure to the humanities. With the blessing of President Herbert Reynold’s administration and the support of the English, Philosophy and Biology departments, the course still known as Literary and Philosophical Perspectives on Medicine was launched.