Humanities and Social Sciences


The Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) course offers students the opportunity to engage with scholarship on health, illness, and medical care in a wide variety of fields, including anthropology, history, law, literature, philosophy, political science, public health, and sociology.   You fulfill course requirements by enrolling in one of the HSS seminars that the course offers.  These seminars meet weekly for one semester and are taught by faculty who are experts in the fields listed above--most come from the Department of Social Medicine, but HSS faculty also include professors from other departments in the School of Medicine and other schools (such as the School of Law) in the university.

Seminars build on material introduced in the first-year survey course Medicine and Society—HSS allows you to explore that material in much greater depth.  The goal is for students to immerse themselves in scholarship on a topic of interest in a small-group learning environment.  The HSS seminars vary widely in content, encompassing everything from bioethics, health and human rights, and doctor-patient communication to global health and the evolution and production of knowledge about disease.  Yet as part of the HSS course, all seminars share a common set of objectives, goals, requirements, and competencies.

Objectives and Goals

This course aims to:

1.  Engage students with humanities and social sciences scholarship on health, illness, and medical care

2.  Deepen understandings of the social, cultural, and historical dimensions of health, illness, and medical practice

3.  Deepen understandings of the legal, ethical, and political dimensions of health, illness, and medical practice

4.  Develop students' skills in critical thinking and analysis, conducting social science and humanities research, writing research papers, giving research presentations and teaching each other.

These course objectives are based on UNC School of Medicine competencies:

  1. Recognize the medical consequences of common societal problems (Medical Knowledge, MK-F)
  2. Communicate effectively in oral format with patients, patients’ families, colleagues, and other health care professionals (Interpersonal and Communication skills, IC-A).  HSS fulfills Milestone IC2A4, effectively present scholarly research and actively participate in and lead small-group discussions.
  3. Communicate effectively in written format with patients, patients’ families, colleagues, and other health care professionals (Interpersonal and Communication skills, IC-B).  HSS fulfills Milestone IC2B2, research and write an analytic paper critically assessing the social dimensions of health, illness, or medical care.

Grading/Evaluation Policy

Seminars vary in their grading policies, though they all require written work and evaluate participation and oral presentation as well.  In order to promote equity, numerical values for the final course grade are standardized across all seminars.  The standardized grading scale is:

High Pass=92
Low Pass=80

Fail=70 or below


Small Group Information

Refer to the Course “Resources” tab for Humanities and Social Sciences (MEDI 231) information about your seminar. Sakai sites that contain the syllabus, readings, and other materials will be available for each seminar group. Each student will receive an E-mail message concerning the meeting room and other specific seminar information.

Course Requirements

The seminars meet for two hours on Tuesday afternoons between 1-3pm.   These seminars are a required part of the curriculum and attendance at all sessions is mandatory. Unexcused absences can result in a failing grade.  No other class or academic requirement may be scheduled during the time slot allotted for the seminar meetings.

The precise requirements vary by seminar.  But each seminar requires you to: (1) be an active, prepared participant in all 13 of the sessions; (2) be a key discussant during some scheduled portion of the course; (3) and write scholarly papers on the material you will be studying.


Each seminar syllabus includes information on the texts and other materials used in that course.

Course Directors

The Course Director is Professor Jon Oberlander, Department of Social Medicine: or 919-843-8269

The Course Manager is Rosa Swanson, Department of Social Medicine: or 919- 966-4799.