Eye’s Wide Shut: Teaching Medical Students About People with Disabilities

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

Medical school is a place where students learn to become doctors. While an important part of what they learn is comprised of technical and informational knowledge, they are also expected to acquire knowledge and skills of a far different sort: appreciation for other perspectives and points of view: understanding of illness within the context of the lived life of the patient; the ability to listen as well as talk to the patient; and the capacity for empathetically imagining the patient’s experience. I Teaching these different ways of knowing is difficult because students. while willing to absorb new knowledge. often are reluctant to fundamentally reconsider basic assumptions and beliefs. in effect, although they think they see clearly. too frequently their eyes remain closed to the possibilities of new understandings. To overcome this resistance. medical educators have experimented with different innovative methods to convey such “hard-ta-teach” clinical competencies.l One such approach is the use of literature (poetry, stories. personal narratives) which, because it focuses on the particular, the subjective, and the personal. is more likely to engage the student’s hearts as well as minds than are traditional didactic materials.

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