Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Bringing Activism Inside the Academy: Teaching Women's Health to Health Professionals

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Bringing Activism Inside the Academy: Teaching Women's Health to Health Professionals

Article excerpt

All veterans of women's and feminist studies have stories to tell about translating a grassroots movement into an academic field. Moreover, once programs and courses have been created, teachers and scholars have still faced problems. They may find that egalitarian theories of pedagogy are belittled, qualitative research methods dismissed, and collaborative work unrewarded. In short, the vision and innovation that feminism brings to academe often meets a lukewarm, even inhospitable welcome.

A similar mix of history, politics, and institutional tradition characterizes the movement of women's health into the curricula of colleges of medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and other health professions. Most educational programs in the health professions offer curricula that are cumbersome and overcrowded, that privilege biology over environment, and that cultivate technical skills at the expense of the interpersonal. Although the traditionally gendered composition of many health professions has been upset by legislation and many women's changing individual choices, this evolution still makes some, often more senior, faculty uncomfortable. The economics of health care and the predominance of concrete over conceptual thinking mitigate against extended personal communication with patients/clients and individuation of medical treatment. In sum, these traditions and conditions create an academic environment for women's health that is every bit as lukewarm or inhospitable as that found by feminists in departments of history, literature, or sociology several decades ago.

Similarly, the work of the women's health movement has echoed the evolution of the broader women's movement. The earliest goal of the women's health movement was to educate and empower: to teach women about their own bodies, their rights as patients, the medical choices open to them, and how to negotiate an often paternalistic or even hostile health care system. Hand in hand with work for individual women was an activist agenda, which drew both legislative and medical attention to the special health needs of women. Finally, a belief that institutions can change if you change the change-agents led to campaigns to increase the number of women in traditionally male-dominated health professions.

All these efforts have had their effect. For example, increased awareness of domestic violence, new requirements for biomedical research to include women, and a national medical class that is about 50% female and a national pharmacy class that is well more than 50% female have changed some of the ways in which medicine is studied and taught. But most of these advances have depended on the persistence and growing influence of women's health advocates, both inside and outside the academy. Now, with the publication of such documents as Women's Health in the Medical School Curriculum (Department of Health and Human Services, 1996); Women's Health in the Curriculum (Donoghue & Participants, 1996); Women's Health in the Dental School Curriculum (Silverton et al., 1999); and Women's Health in the Baccalaureate Nursing School Curriculum (Department of Health and Human Services, 2002), women's health stands at the threshold where once stood the creators of the first programs in women's studies. ( Full citations to these sources appear in the syllabus, below.) What happens when the grassroots moves into a standard medical or dentistry curriculum? It is not my intention in this essay to answer that question; rather, I will describe one effort to make curriculum designers more conscious of the task before them.

Teaching Women's Health to Health Professionals is a pedagogical course designed for an interprofessional group of students. It is a product of the National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, which was established at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in fall 1998. (The first six Centers of Excellence [COEs] were designated in 1996, with the number growing in subsequent years. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.