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What is a degree “concentration”?

Graduate degrees are awarded at UNC by individual departments.  Departments can specify specific curricula or concentrations for which they will grant a degree in a specific area of study.  For the purpose of granting an MA in Literature, Medicine and Culture, the Department of English and Comparative Literature is our host department, but the curriculum outlined in the degree concentration includes course offerings from across the University.

Can I take courses in other fields or departments?

The curriculum has been designed specifically to enable candidates to construct multidisciplinary courses of study leading to the MA.  Departments offering courses qualifying for credit are listed under “Courses.”  We are adding new courses from new departments constantly.  Please check for updates from time to time.

Can I take courses not included in the Course Listings?

In general, yes.  You will need to have any such courses approved in advance, however, by your advisor and the program director.  In the case of coursework completed prior to enrollment, you may submit up to nine credit hours’ of coursework for credit toward this degree.  See the last paragraph under “General Requirements” above for specifics of this process.

How long will I need to earn this degree?

It is possible to complete the degree within one year of intensive study (including summer courses). Medical and professional degree students may prefer this approach, and can work with the director to develop a suitable plan of study. Others may prefer to complete the degree over four academic semesters (without summer courses). Workload in each course varies, but students should expect intensive reading, writing, and participation requirements in a small, seminar-style setting.

What kind of support is available?

See the Department’s Admission’s FAQ page ( ) for Departmental policy.  Applicants should be aware, however, that there is no guarantee of support, either for tuition or living expenses, and that degree candidates will be considered for support case-by-case.

Can I get a PhD in this area at UNC?

Not at this time. Graduate students in a range of departments at UNC are at work on dissertation projects in this field, but they will earn their doctorates in their specific fields. UNC graduate students are eligible to complete a Graduate Certificate in Literature, Medicine, and Culture. If you are interested in a PhD in this field, then, you should apply directly to the department that best suits your interests and background.

What background do I need?

A strong undergraduate background in humanistic study (which may include literature, rhetoric, cultural studies, history, philosophy, etc.), demonstrated interest in interdisciplinary work, and some familiarity with the life sciences or philosophy of science are all helpful.  Work/life experience in biomedicine can also strengthen a candidate’s application (and this experience need not be in a professional or practitioner’s capacity—personal or familial experience with illness, for instance, is often an important motivator for work in this field).  The most successful candidates will demonstrate a wide-ranging  curiosity about medicine and culture, and a commitment to transcending disciplinary boundaries to achieve an extensive, nuanced understanding of the intersections between the cultures of medicine and society at large.

For what will this degree qualify me?

We expect that the majority of our degree recipients will go on to work in areas that privilege critical thinking skills and the capacity to integrate information across a diverse disciplinary range.  Students anticipating applying to medical schools or training programs in other healthcare professions may, however, find that this degree will make their applications stand out from the majority of applications.  Those seeking doctorates in humanities fields will find that this degree offers a strong basis from which to proceed to a dissertation project.  And those interested in careers in healthcare administration or policy research will find that a broad-based understanding of the cultural context of healthcare will offer a more sophisticated understanding of those fields than they might otherwise acquire.  Moreover, given that very few of us will live out our lives without personally encountering healthcare as an institution, and that such encounters often mark critical points in our lives, a deep and extensive understanding of what those encounters have meant for others may be the most important knowledge any of us can bring to these passages in our lives.

Who advises candidates?

Graduate advising in the Department of English and Comparative Literature is ordinarily done by faculty in that Department, supplemented as necessary by faculty from other fields.  A similar model pertains in this program.  There is a board of advisors, drawn from a range of disciplines and departments, including practicing clinicians from the School of Medicine, who may serve as advisors.  Faculty offering any of the courses listed here may serve as well, either as the primary advisor as a secondary member of the candidate’s committee; other faculty may serve as well, subject to their agreement and approval of the program director.  The associate director is also be available for advising questions throughout a candidate’s degree program.

Will I be able to work in clinical situations?

Subject to hospital regulations (most of which involve compliance with Federal and State requirements for protection of patient safety and privacy), candidates will have access to a range of clinical settings, either by shadowing individual clinicians or through the hospital volunteers’ program.  Those conducting research (e.g., for an academic assignment or the non-thesis option) involving patients or other human subjects may, depending on the nature of their research and its intended audience, be required to submit proposals for clearance by the Institutional Review Board before their work can proceed.  Because this process involves a complex application, and review can take several months, candidates considering any kind of field work in a clinical setting are advised to begin planning their project as early as possible.