There is growing concern among physicians, scholars, medical educators, and most importantly among patients, that science and technology have begun to eclipse fundamental attributes, such as empathy in the doctor-patient relationship. As a result, “humanism” in medicine has been a widely debated topic—how to define it, how to promote it, whether it can be taught, and how to qualify (much less quantify) its value in the practice of medicine. Through this research project I sought to better understand the role of humanities coursework in American medical school curricula, and determine whether there was a relationship between the integration of humanities coursework and the maintenance or enhancement of empathy levels in medical students. I reviewed literature with three objectives. (1) To better understand the influential social and political factors of pervasive reforms in US medical school curricula at the beginning of the 20th century, which led to science exclusive pedagogy in physician training (2) To become familiar with the works of iconic personalities in the history of American medical school pedagogy, paying special attention to attitudes and claims describing the role of humanities coursework, and the concept of humanism in the practice of medicine. (3) To observe the discourse underway across a variety of disciplines with regard to the current role of humanities coursework in medical curricula. My research shows that empathy is an essential attribute in the healing relationship, which benefits patients, physicians and improves health outcomes. Despite the importance of empathy, current physician training is documented as eroding empathy levels in medical students. Though the definition of ‘humanities’ in the context of medical school curricula remains vague and even contradictory, support for integration of humanities coursework is growing as an effective intervention for maintaining or enhancing levels of empathy.
- The Past, Present, and Future Role of the Humanities in American Medical Education
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