Effect of Teaching The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on Student Beliefs of Health Care, Medical Ethics, and Health Disparities
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Purpose: To explore student perceptions on topics of health care, medical ethics, and disparities both before and after taking a course focused on the biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Study Design: Quasi-experimental, mixed qualitative study conducted among University of Washington Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate students. Methods: A survey was developed and administered to MPH graduate students at the University of Washington soliciting their perceptions on the following categories: health disparities; health access; race, culture, and spirituality; distrust of medicine; ethical medical research; and current and future health needs. The survey was given to students both before and after having received the intervention of an academic course focused on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Qualitative research methods were used to identify themes common within the discourse generated from the survey among participants with a particular interest in how these themes may have changed following the intervention. Results: In all categories of interest, new themes emerged post-intervention after students had taken a course covering The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks . In particular, more race-specific themes, as well as themes highlighting the social determinants of health and the need for open access to health care became more apparent post-intervention. Conclusions: This study suggests that student perceptions on health care, medical ethics, and health disparities may be influenced by being immersed in an ethics course covering the biography of Henrietta Lacks. The results of this study indicate that this intervention may provide a framework for engaging individuals on difficult discussions of culture, race, and equality within the health care field.
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