Can Poetry Make Better Doctors? Teaching the Humanities and Arts to Medical Students and Residents at the University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine

Johanna Shapiro, PhD, and Lloyd Rucker, MD

The Program in Medical Humanities & Arts at the University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine has been in existence for five years. The program was implemented to enhance aspects of professionalism including empathy, altruism, compassion, and caring toward patients, as well as to hone clinical communication and observational skills. It contains elective or required curriculum across all four years of medical school and required curriculum in two residency programs, organized according to structural principles of horizontal coherence, vertical complexity, and patient care applications.

The program emphasizes small-group, interdisciplinary teaching and faculty development, and is notable for learners’ use of creative projects to reflect on patients and themselves. Evaluation of the program indicates a positive response among learners. More systematic studies point to increases in empathy and positive attitudes toward the humanities as tools for professional development as a result of exposure to the program curriculum. Future directions include closer collaboration with the University of California, Irvine, Schools of the Arts and Humanities, involvement of local artists and writers, and development of a graduation with distinction in humanities for medical students.

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