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The humanities in medical education 

The humanities in medical education
The humanities in medical education

John Spicer

, Debbie Harrison

, and Jo Winning

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date: 08 December 2021

The term medical humanities is American in origin and dates back to the 1970s, when US teachers of medical education began to incorporate selected materials from the humanities more formally into their classes (Sirridge and Welch 2002, quoted in Evans 2007). Today, the term medical humanities denotes a broad and systematic programme of teaching and research. In this chapter we start from the assertion that the study of humanities complements and strengthens the study of formal scientific methods in medicine, and that this alignment of the human and scientific paradigms of medicine enables the development of powerful analytical tools for modern practice. The rationale for the incorporation of the humanities in the medical curriculum is predicated on a growing awareness that the disconnections between these two paradigms are counterproductive and deny students of medicine a rich learning experience that will enhance their personal and professional development. We argue that these disconnections are anachronistic—a hangover from the Victorian era, when the newly-formed medical profession reconstructed itself as a scientific endeavour and in so doing rejected its origins in the arts and natural philosophy. Medical humanities is understood in different ways. Here we describe an interdisciplinary subject that integrates the study of conceptual analysis and critical thinking, derived from the humanities curricula, into formal medical curricula. The subject incorporates teaching methodologies from art, history (including the history of medicine), law, literature, music, philosophy (including philosophy of ethics), and theology (see fig. 20.2). It aligns the scientific aspects of medical education—and its socioscientific mode of analysis and communication—with the broader and deeper enquiries that are at the heart of the humanities: compassion and empathy; diversity and identity; and language, meaning, and thought. It is a dynamic and progressive discipline that enriches and illuminates conventional medical pedagogy and, in particular, enhances the clinical encounter. It is also an exciting, vibrant, and rapidly evolving field, to which students respond positively and with enthusiasm.

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