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The Role of Medical Humanities in Medical School

While memorizing anatomy and learning how to perform certain medical procedures are vital in training the prospective physician, it is equally, if not more important, to prepare the upcoming physician for humanism in medicine.

In 2011, 69, or 52%, of the 133 accredited medical schools in the U.S. required a course in medical humanities. It is through the window of humanity that one learns the art of medicine: the obligation to care for the sick may not wholly be interpreted as the ability to cure, but the desire to heal should stem fundamentally from the ability to provide compassionate care.

In our practice of medicine, we all face the inevitable — patients financially unable to obtain medical care, patients coping with hard to diagnose diseases, and patients ultimately dying of incurable diseases. In these cases, we come to realize that the science of medicine is just not going to be enough to alleviate the physical suffering of our patients. In these circumstances, a compassionate physician can “be” that great difference in the patient’s care by providing comfort and dignity, thereby enhancing the patient’s ability to cope with illness — where advanced technology and treatment fall short of cure.

Why incorporate humanities into medicine? Humanism in medicine brings a greater sense of purpose and meaning to the practice of medicine. Though immeasurable and not financially reimbursable, its essence is compelling in the real-life drama of patient care. The practice of medicine is most unique compared to other consumer services in that it is very personal; patients relinquish their pain, most private emotions and fears, and their modesty to physicians.

Every time we are privileged to interact with patients, be it a simple examination or even simply entering a patient’s room, we are fostering a sacred bond or relationship to respect, honor and heal another person’s humanity beyond our own. It is an opportunity to seek deeply God or another divine presence, a universal energy, call it what you may — that transcends the moment, letting the patient and provider be transformed forever.

By integrating humanities into the medical school curriculum, future physicians will be better equipped to understand, assess and treat their patients as they interact with the complete person and the culture, family and living situations unique to that individual, rather than just considering the patients as victims of illness.

Medical humanities empower physicians to be great advocates for their patients, and to serve their calling with humility and gratitude.

Hormuz Nicolwala Hormuz Nicolwala (5 Posts)

Editor Emeritus: Former Medical Student Editor (2013-2015)

Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine

I am currently a first-year pediatric resident at the Children's Hospital of West Virginia. I received my MD degree from Texas A&M Health Science Center in 2014. I love medical writing!