Teaching Women's Health at the Graduate Level

By Clarke, Adele E.; Fosket, Jennifer Ruth | Women's Studies Quarterly, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Teaching Women's Health at the Graduate Level


Clarke, Adele E., Fosket, Jennifer Ruth, Women's Studies Quarterly


The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) is a health sciences campus, has no undergraduates, and offers graduate and health professions degree programs (in nursing, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, basic life sciences). There are four social science doctoral programs: sociology, medical anthropology, health psychology, and history of health sciences. The doctoral program in sociology at UCSF is the only such program in the world that dwells in a school of nursing.

The women's health course presented here is a regular part of the curriculum in that doctoral program in sociology. The first incarnation was offered by Virginia Olesen (now professor emerita) in 1973. The doctoral program is intently focused on the sociology of health, illness, and medicine; the next incarnation of this course will expand to include gender and become one of the six required courses in this specialty. The full set of required sociology of health, illness, and medicine courses is offered every other year, alternating with our required social theory courses. The full required curriculum in medical sociology offered for the doctoral program includes The Sociology of Health and Medicine; The Social Psychology and Social Construction of Health and Illness; Health Policy and Politics; Health Care Organizations and Institutions; and Race and Class Factors in Health Care Delivery. (For further information, see www.ucsf.edu/medsoc) Syllabi for most of these courses were recently published in Robin D. Moreman, 2001, A Handbook for Teaching Medical Sociology, 4th ed., Washington, D.C., American Sociological Association, Teaching Resources. (See www.asanet.org.)

The other course in the regular doctoral curriculum that takes up related issues is an elective also taught by Adele Clarke: Gender(s) and Race (s) in/and Sciences, Technologies and Medicines. That syllabus was published in both Stephen Zehr (ed.), 1999, Syllabi and Instructional Materials for Science, Knowledge, and Technology; and Virginia Powell (ed.), 2000, Teaching Resources Guide in Sex and Gender. Both are Teaching Resources Publications of the American Sociological Association. (See www.asanet.org.)

While the majority of students in our courses are sociology graduate students, there are also occasionally doctoral nursing, anthropology, history, medical, and other students and postdoctoral fellows. The women's health course draws very widely on our student body, and I anticipate that the gender and health course will as well. Happily, because our programs are not large, most of our courses can be easily offered as doctoral seminars with extensive discussion. We meet only once a week (normal for all courses), for 3 hours, with one break. This facilitates the kind of in-depth engagement with the materials that is appropriate for graduate work.

Because interest in the course is wide, yet graduate students are typically overcommitted, we have devised an initially complicated-looking but ultimately wonderfully efficient set of different ways in which students can enroll. This allows their efforts to range from simply doing the readings and a set number of one-page summaries, and attending class, to a major book review or research paper (often a literature review preparatory to qualifying examinations). A list of those readings appropriate for one-page summaries (called critique sheets) is distributed at the beginning of the course. The one-page summaries are collected twice during the course, and students often bring them to class, which also facilitates discussion.

At the very beginning of each session, we usually generate on the blackboard a list of themes that emerged from the readings for that session. This allows us to densify and integrate our analyses across the several hours of class and facilitates our return to certain important theoretical points. We then ask different students to lead off discussion of each reading (and this is sometimes planned ahead). …

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