What are Medical Humanities?


We define the term "medical humanities" broadly to include an interdisciplinary field of humanities (literature, philosophy, ethics, history and religion), social science (anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, sociology), and the arts (literature, theater, film, and visual arts) and their application to medical education and practice. The humanities and arts provide insight into the human condition, suffering, personhood, our responsibility to each other, and offer a historical perspective on medical practice. Attention to literature and the arts helps to develop and nurture skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection -- skills that are essential for humane medical care.

The Medical Humanities provide an interdisciplinary and interprofessional approach to investigating and understanding the profound effects of illness and disease on patients, health professionals, and the social worlds in which they live and work. In contrast to the medical sciences, the medical humanities which include narrative medicine, history of medicine, culture studies, science and technology studies, medical anthropology, ethics, economics, philosophy and the arts (literature, film, visual art) focus more on meaning making than measurement.

[The] medical humanities may be understood to be refiguring the ancient educational ideal of humanitas, a blending of self-knowledge and humane feeling and action brought to bear in caring for the sick, the injured, the troubled, and the dispossessed. In keeping with this ideal, aspirants to the health professions may learn the arts of discernment and discourse, empathy and insight. To teach these arts is the principal talks of practitioners of the medical humanities.

"Medicine Rediscovers the Humanities", a lecture delivered on the occasion of the inauguration of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor University, Dr. Ronald A. Carson, October 2006.

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