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CHeEtAH puts health care in a new context

The center is an expansion of a program that has existed in the School of Medicine for more than three decades.

Ethics, arts and humanities might not be the first three words that come to mind when discussing health care, but the intersection of those three are crucial to practicing medicine.

“Health care is ultimately humans giving care to humans,” said Gretchen Case, Ph.D. “Giving the best and most appropriate care requires understanding many human experiences and contexts, which is what ethics, arts and humanities do best.”

Case is the inaugural director of the newly established Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities (CHeEtAH) at the University of Utah. The center is an expansion of a program that has existed in the School of Medicine for more than three decades.  It now will have the resources to serve a wide array of people studying health education as well as those in other academic areas across campus. The center’s faculty and staff not only come from health care but also from law, philosophy, rhetoric and literature for an interdisciplinary approach to issues raised.

“This is a lot about supporting what’s already going on and making it better together,” said Case. “I think this is very much in the spirit of ‘One U.’ What are we doing that we could do better together if we all know about each other? If we’re all connected?”

The creation of CHeEtAH parallels a call from the Association of American Medical Colleges encouraging colleges and universities engaged in health education to consider more deeply the roles of arts and humanities in the curriculum.

“We take all our second-year medical students to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and do an exercise with them called Visual Thinking Strategies,” said Case. “This is something that’s been used all over the country and it actually improves visual diagnostic skills. It’s using aspects of the arts to apply to clinical skills.”

It’s that kind of education that helps elevate the practice of medicine and other health sciences beyond the mechanical. “There’s so much that goes into the simple act of picking up a pill at the pharmacy. And that’s what we do,” said Case. “It’s all that context that’s really important and we want to show people how it’s important, both from the patient side and the provider side.”

“We think we can do some good by improving health care and community health in general.”