Reading Medical Nemesis and writing a letter to Ivan Illich during the COVID-19 pandemic: A social work education activity for undergraduate students

Elena Cabiati, Maria Turati

During the Methodology of Social Work course, undergraduate social work students read the book Medical nemesis. The expropriation of health written by Ivan Illich in 1974. Subsequently, students were invited to join an online workshop and write an imaginary letter to the author of the book. This activity aimed to encourage students to critically reflect on the content of the book with reference to future social work and the current health emergency that has significantly affected Italy. Content analysis of student letters revealed three main areas of discussion: (1) viewpoints regarding Illich’s thesis, (2) connections between the author’s thought and the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, and (3) transversal concepts between the author’s thought and social work. The activity could inspire similar teaching and learning initiatives to develop critical thinking among students. These findings could inspire social work educators and students to reflect on mechanisms, dynamics, and approaches that are counter-productive for social work, and on what they were living, teaching, and learning during COVID-19 time.


Social work education, COVID-1, Medical Nemesis, critical thinking, Ivan Illich, social work.