Medical Humanities and Their Discontents: Definitions, Critiques, and Implications

Johanna Shapiro, PhD, Jack Coulehan, MD, MPH, Delese Wear, PhD, and Martha Montello, PhD

The humanities offer great potential for enhancing professional and humanistic development in medical education. Yet, although many students report benefit from exposure to the humanities in their medical education, they also offer consistent complaints and skepticism. The authors offer a pedagogical definition of the medical humanities, linking it to medicine as a practice profession. They then explore three student critiques of medical humanities curricula: (1) the content critique, examining issues of perceived relevance and intellectual bait-and-switch, (2) the teaching critique, which examines instructor trustworthiness and perceived personal intrusiveness, and (3) the structural/placement critique, or how and when medical humanities appear in the curriculum.

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