Innovative ‘Studies in Medicine’ course will be offered online to all UC students

Developed by UC Santa Cruz biology professor Grant Hartzog and local physician Dr. Greg Gates, the popular course examines the field of medicine through a historical and philosophical lens

Greg Gates & Grant Hartzog
Dr. Greg Gates (left) and Prof. Grant Hartzog co-teach the 'Studies in Medicine' course.

Three years ago, UCSC biologist Grant Hartzog and local physician Dr. Greg Gates launched a new course at UC Santa Cruz titled “Studies in Medicine: Its Art, History, Science, and Philosophy,” an interdisciplinary general inquiry course designed for both science majors and non-majors to dip their intellectual toes into the vast ocean of the modern healthcare marketplace.

Now, thanks to a grant from UC's Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI), Hartzog is working to take the popular course online and make it available to all UC students in spring 2019.

A professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology, Hartzog said he strives to teach his students to be critical thinkers. “I want them to reflect, ‘How, as a non-expert, do I critically evaluate what I’m told about healthcare? How do I assess whether the information that is being advertised to me is reliable?’” he said.

Hartzog worked with Gates, a retired emergency room physician, to design the "Studies in Medicine" course. The two co-teach each session of the class, with Gates sharing an insider’s perspective on how physicians gather information and solve problems and what patients can reasonably expect to get from the world of Western medicine. According to Hartzog, Gates wants to create a more educated populace and help students discern the difference between real medicine and quackery.

“What’s more, we want to teach these students about how they can, as patients, help their healthcare providers do a better job,” Hartzog said.

Along the way, Gates and Hartzog lead students through discussions about the history of medicine—both Western and other traditions like Chinese and Indian medicine—and the development of modern medical technology. Students delve into the emotional and psychological issues that cloud medical treatments, the role of placebos, and ethical considerations in a multicultural healthcare workplace. In their quest to evaluate the evolution of modern medicine, they read everything from Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning The Emperor of all Maladies to Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian Wars.

Fully online version

Soon, students at other UC campuses will be able to join in Gates and Hartzog’s cerebral smorgasbord. The ILTI grant provides funding to shoot videos and develop a fully online version of the course. “We’ve committed to teaching the course fully online five times in next five years,” Hartzog said.

This isn’t the first UC Santa Cruz course to be offered system-wide. Others include online calculus courses, a water policy course, and "Geology of the National Parks."

“The final frontier is taking this class online,” Hartzog said. “This was always Gates’s original vision for the course—for it to become something of value for people across the state, not just in Santa Cruz.”

Hartzog said he knows the coming year will be filled with challenges as he and Gates work to adapt the course and its curriculum for a life online. “It’s difficult to manage that transition from having a live audience to having a remote one,” he said. “How do we keep them engaged and provide a vital learning experience for them? It’s something that keeps me up at night right now.”

Hartzog and Gates are teaching the course this quarter in the new Active Learning Classroom in the Science & Engineering Library. With 96 students enrolled, it is the biggest class yet. The course draws students from nearly every academic discipline—not only pre-med majors, but also students from the arts, social sciences, and the humanities. Hartzog thinks this diversity adds to the depth and breadth of class discussion.

“Students are exposed to a wider range of opinions, viewpoints, and experiences than when they are in courses required for their majors,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for 20 years, and this is one of the most rewarding and most popular courses I have taught.”