Health Humanities

Research at the intersection of humanities, medicine, health, education and practice

Health and Medical Humanities is a rapidly evolving field that provides an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the meaning of health, illness and disease for people in the context of the social worlds in which they live and work.

Health Humanities focuses more on meaning-making than measurement. It encompasses medical humanities and the fields of narrative medicine, history of medicine, culture studies, technology, medical anthropology, medical sociology, ethics, economics, philosophy, literature, the arts and music.

By bringing humanities scholars together with clinicians, educators and medical scientists, this field is highly innovative and likely to make a significant impact in shaping the future direction of healthcare for our communities.

Increasingly, evidence suggests that inclusion of the humanities and the arts in the sphere of health has the potential to improve individual, health system and population health outcomes.

With the commencement of the first Australian undergraduate major in Humanities for Health and Medicine in the School of Allied Health at UWA, it is timely and appropriate for us to bring together experienced medical sociologists, health humanities researchers and health professions educators to form collaborations in education, scholarship and practice through the UWA Centre for Health Humanities.

Our team

Health Humanities Symposium

The UWA School of Allied Health, Health Professions Education and Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery are delighted to invite academics and practitioners to the UWA Health Humanities Research Group Symposium on Friday, 21 October 2022. This one-day hybrid symposium will share examples of local, national and international Health Humanities research and also involve hands-on workshops illustrating educational approaches of Narrative Medicine and Object Based Learning.

Learn more

Our collaborators

Our mission is to build strong local, national, and international collaborations linking our work to the global community. 
This discipline sees UWA staff collaborate with academics from all over the world.

  • Professor Jane Macnaughton, Durham University
  • Assistant Professor Anna Harris, Maastricht University
  • Professor Pamela Brett Maclean, University of Alberta
  • Dr Claire Hooker, University of Sydney
  • Professor Stephen Reid, University of Cape Town
  • Professor Sarah Nettleton, University of York
  • Clinical Associate Clayton Baker, University of Rochester
  • Dr Karen Scott, University of Sydney
  • Dr Catherine Noske, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Claire Hansen, James Cook University
  • Dr Daniel Vuillermin, Peking University
  • Dr Farah Noya, Pattimura University
  • Kirsty Freeman, Duke-NUS, Singapore

Our research projects

The research projects undertaken by our academics and our collaborators reflect the unique and diverse methods used by researchers in this interdisciplinary field. Below are a selection of the projects we are working on at present. We welcome enquiries from potential collaborators and research candidates.
HEAL’D project

Dr Francesco De Toni is a linguist and a Forrest Prospect Fellow at the University of Western Australia. He is leading the research project ‘HEAL’D – Health Emotions in Australia: Language and Discourse’.

The project aims to enhance our understanding of how Australians express and name their emotions when talking about health and illness. Through a mixed quantitative and qualitative approach, the HEAL’D project investigates how culture influences linguistic models of emotional expression in healthcare and health-related settings, how these models spread across different media and social groups, and how they affect people’s ability to express and name emotions with regard to health and illness (for example, during consultations between patients and doctors).

The results of this research are expected to be translated into educational resources, policy recommendations and technological solutions that have the potential to improve communication between clinicians, public-health bodies and patients.

The project is based on a collaboration between the School of Humanities, the School of Allied Health, the Medical School and the School of Linguistics.

For more information contact Dr Francesco De Toni 

Moved Reading
The Renaissance Moved Reading Project invites students, staff and friends to read plays from the English Renaissance period on the New Fortune Theatre stage. Plays are selected from texts being studied in relevant units, and the readings are open to all. Developing humanism through embodied learning facilitated by moved readings offers students and other participants new ways to experience and explore ideas concerning emotions, human nature, and our relationships to each other. The future aim is to use the knowledge gained within this project to enhance the learning experience for students enrolled in both humanities and health humanities units.  

For further information contact Dr Bríd Phillips.

Narratives of Progression – from medical student to junior doctor

There are very few studies aimed at understanding early workplace performance of junior doctors and how that performance might link back to selection scores for medicine or progression through their medical course. The aim of this collaborative research is to explore the experience of medical students who may have had some interruption to their progression through the medical course, how this translates into subsequent transition to and performance in early practice as a junior doctors and to identify links between selection of students, progression and performance as a junior doctor. This descriptive study is using grounded theory methodology to inductively develop theoretical constructs from a range of data sources gathered from senior medical students graduating from the five partner institutions (Monash, University of Tasmania, Auckland, Otago and The University of Western Australia).

For further information, contact the CI Professor Sandra Carr.

WUN Health Humanities Initiative - A Curriculum and Evaluation Framework

With the commencement of the first Australian undergraduate major in Humanities for Health and Medicine at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in 2019, it is timely and appropriate to bring together experienced researchers and educators to form an international research collaboration to substantiate the rationale for including humanities as core material in health professions curricula relevant for international contexts. Research undertaken is further illuminating the focal areas of learning through Health Humanities in pre-registration health professions programs and has identified Health Humanities Graduate Capabilities that have not previously been described.

For more information contact Prof Sandra Carr

Words and Thoughts Narrative Medicine Programme

Words and Thoughts is a programme which uses techniques from narrative medicine allowing hospital staff to engage in close reading and creative writing activities. This programme was designed to support the mental well-being of front line hospital staff by offering a friendly online space where participants could explore ideas and connect through stories.

The pilot programme is part of a research initiative to support research in this space. It is supported by The University of Western Australia and Sir Charles Gairdner Osborne Park Health Care Group.



Podcast - What is health humanities for?

The health humanities has developed as an inclusive, interdisciplinary approach to the intersections and interactions between the humanities and health disciplines. In this 20-minute podcast, Dr Bríd Phillips (Lecturer in Health Humanities at University of Western Australia (UWA)) and Dr Claire Hansen (Lecturer in English and Writing at James Cook University (JCU)) will explore questions around the purpose of the humanities and literature, specifically as it pertains to human health and wellbeing.

The podcast will introduce the health humanities and its relationship to English literature and emotions. An exploratory discussion will provide insights into the research projects in health humanities conducted at both UWA and JCU. We will discuss Dr Phillips’ involvement in the Humanities in Health and Medicine major and her work on narrative medicine with frontline health workers during Covid-19.

The podcast will also explore Dr Hansen’s collaborative work connecting artificial heart devices (left ventricular assist devices or LVADs) with representations of the pulse in the works of William Shakespeare. Using these specific research projects, the podcast will raise broader questions about the role of the health humanities, the intersections between medicine and literature, and the function of literature in our society.

Listen to the podcast here

UWA Medical Humanities Network

Contact our team