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The Exhibition and the iBAMH

Updated: Sep 2, 2021



I thought I would write a bit about the iBAMH (intercalated BA in Medical Humanities) course. All the art in this exhibition was produced by current intercalators on the course.

As an intercalated course, it is only taken by medical, veterinary and dental students. It is common for students studying these courses to leave their vocational course for a year and study a complementary subject before returning. Although traditionally such courses focused on anatomy or research, there are now a wide range of courses available. Students can move university to study particular courses of interest – I moved from Leeds.

Our course consisted of four modules and a dissertation. We also participated in Oakhill sessions and creative opportunities (see separate blog posts) throughout the year – which culminated in this (online) exhibition.

In first term we took two modules: Critical Issues and Philosophy & History of Medicine. Critical Issues was a English Literature introductory module that we studied alongside first-year English students. The philosophy module was taken by third-year Philosophy students. I really appreciated the chance to discuss topics with students from non-scientific backgrounds, and I hope that our contributions were useful to others too.

Critical Issues was quite theory-based. We studied a variety of texts through the lens of different forms of literary criticism and different ideologies. I found it interesting, but I preferred the literature module we took in second term. Critical Issues had a formative essay halfway through the term, and a summative essay in January.

The Philosophy & History of Medicine was a really interesting module taught by Adina Covaci (a fantastic lecturer!). We discussed the placebo effect, critiques of evidence-based medicine, the doctor-patient relationship and when to categorise a difference as a disease. The course helped me to appreciate the complexity of medical practice, and taught me to take nothing for granted. This course also had a formative essay in first term and was then assessed through a take-home exam in January (we had two weeks to submit two philosophy essays).

In the second term, we studied Literature and Medicine, and the Philosophy of Death, Dying and Disease – the former a third-year and MA module, the latter a second and third-year module.

I really enjoyed Literature and Medicine. This module was assessed through two summative essays. We studied a variety of texts, including Henry IV, Keats, Frankenstein, Philip Roth’s Nemesis and HIV/AIDS poetry. Rather than studying the texts as depictions of ‘stupid beliefs about disease’, I learnt that I could not dismiss past attitudes and texts so easily. We cannot judge people for being ‘unscientific’ in a world with limited opportunities for scientific study. Moreover, although western medicine in the 21st Century is undoubtedly a boon to humanity, it isn’t perfect, and it can’t solve the existential questions posed by disease – so there is much we can learn from the past.

I found it particularly interesting to explore literature about epidemics whilst living through a pandemic! In the last week John introduced us to graphic medicine, which included comics and street art about coronavirus: I benefitted intellectually and emotionally from exploring others’ experiences of lockdown and Covid-19. I also loved Ian William’s The Bad Doctor, which depicts the life of a rural GP in Wales. Sad, funny and inspiring in equal measure. (If you want to know more about graphic medicine.)

We also studied the Philosophy of Death, Dying and Disease. We were delighted to discover that this module was also taught by Adina. We studied philosophical and ethical questions related to death. When can we say that someone is dead? Does death make life meaningless? Is immortality desirable? Should euthanasia be legal? The topics were challenging but could never be regarded as boring! After voting on which topic we would like to explore, we studied the Death Penalty in the last week. This module was assessed through a presentation (which had to be delivered online due to Covid-19), an essay and a take-home exam (involving two philosophy essays).

We wrote our dissertation in the second semester. 6500-8000 words, which seemed like a lot at first, but it really isn’t! I loved immersing myself in a medical humanities topic of my choice. My dissertation title was: ‘Some of us believe people belong to each other’: Understanding Mortality as an experience of Relationality and Mutual Vulnerability. It was great to be able to connect abstract ideas with medical practice: my reading list included philosophers, palliative care doctors, undertakers and people with experiences of bereavement.

Although some of our teaching was affected by industrial action and coronavirus, I still feel that I learnt a lot this year and I found the online teaching very engaging. Studying in the field of humanities was very different to studying medicine. I had much fewer contact hours than I was used to, with more time for independent study and thought. I really appreciated the break from cramming facts. I enjoyed the chance to explore Bristol, form new friendships, take up new hobbies and reflect on life. I would really recommend intercalation to anyone considering it, and I have loved this course! For more information, please see here.

Sonya Bushell, iBAMH 2019-20


Alex Brugman, a veterinary student, has also written about the course here and here.

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