Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Humanities in medicine

Here is the transcript of a wonderful talk by Faith Fitzgerald.

Over the past decade there has been a call to increase the emphasis on the humanities in the pre medical curriculum. Dr. Fitzgerald seems to take a contrarian view:

A number of months ago, a second-year medical student e-mailed me to ask about the value of humanities courses in our preclinical curriculum. A humanities major in college, he questioned the overwhelming dominance of medical sciences in his first 2 years of classes.

Science is, and must be, the mind of medicine: It is what differentiates us from quacks, and what patients depend on for their future well-being. Yet some say we should, in addition, teach humanities in medical schools because the applicants preferentially selected for admission are science-techno-geeks.

But that's not true! Among our medical students are musicians, poets, historians, dancers, and artists. They come from many and diverse backgrounds in culture, religion, and language. These humanities aren't extinguished in medical school, although some may be temporarily sidelined.

Still, shouldn't we have required classes in the humanities to emphasize to our students that study of the humanities makes people better doctors?

Sadly, there's not much evidence that it does. In the first half of the 20th century, Germany was a highly educated nation in literature, philosophy, and music. And what this allowed Nazi doctors to do in the death camps was to march their victims to the ovens with prisoner orchestras playing Handel and Bach to quiet them on their way to a cruel death.

The real education in the humanities, she maintains, comes from spending time with patients and getting to know them as persons.

There is a lot to unpack in her talk and I highly recommend reading it in full.

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