Program in Medical Humanities & Arts, UC Irvine School of Medicine

Purpose: The UC Irvine School of Medicine Program in Medical Humanities and Arts (PMHA) is designed to integrate arts and humanities-based materials into medical education and to promote student research in the medical humanities.

The Program’s goal is to show medical students how humanities and the arts can help them develop both critical thinking and empathy to better understand their patients’ illness experiences, the doctor/medical team-patient/family relationships, physician self-care, and various other aspects of healthcare.

Curriculum: The Program has developed both required and elective curriculum in all four years of medical school. Over the years, PMHA has initiated a wide range of curricular initiatives including required curricular components in the Clinical Foundations courses, as well as the Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics clinical clerkships  PMHA  has also introduced several first year electives (Patient Stories/Doctor Stories; Examine the Painting/Examine the Patient; History of Medicine),  an optional creative projects reflection in the Anatomy course; and a popular 4th year elective, Art of Doctoring, a capstone course that enrolls approximately half the graduating class. The Program has sponsored many professional conferences, symposia, lectures, and dramatic performances examining various aspects of medical humanities for audiences of medical students and faculty.

Representative curricular activities include:

  • Participating in a “clinical correlate” in the first-year Anatomy course that brings family members of donors to interact with the students who have just completed dissection
  • Observing a  theatrical performance of “Good Doc/Bad Doc” to introduce first-year students to geriatric medicineTelling stories about patients and about doctors during an Internal Medicine clerkship session
  •  Performing medically themed plays on the Family Medicine clerkship to explore patient, family member, physician, and other health professionals’ perspectives on care
  • Writing  reflective essays about difficult medical student-patient interactions on the Family Medicine clerkship
  • Reading a poem about a doctor breaking bad news to a patient, then discussing its implications for real world care;
  • Creating original art and poetry as part of the first year Anatomy course, the second-year Student Senior Partners’ Program and the third-year Pediatric clerkship to reflect on dissection,  the patient/family’s encounter with illness and the medical student experiences in clinical training;
  • Attending a “Night at the Movies” session to view and discuss a medically themed movie
  • Participating in an optional workshop teaching improvisational theater skills as they apply to clinical encounters
  • Visiting a local art museum to practice visual interpretation with special emphasis on implications for patient care
  • Conducting original medical humanities research to develop familiarity with relevant scholarship in this area and to engage in arts/humanities-based practices, such as writing poetry or creating graphic medicine with relevance for clinical encounters.

Journal of Arts and Humanities: The PMHA sponsors Plexus,, the UC Irvine School of Medicine’s journal of arts and humanities, which provides students, faculty and staff with an outlet for creative original work.

Graduation with Distinction in Humanities/Arts; Medical Humanities Awards: PMHA works with the Office of Medical Education to recognize outstanding student contributions in medical humanities through the designation of graduation with distinction in the humanities/arts awarded annually to 3-4 meritorious graduating fourth-year students. Through the Office of Medical Education, the Program also presents a monetary award to a graduating student for achievement in the arts and humanities. PMHA also sponsors a humanities/arts competition for medical students, with awards in creative writing, visual and performing arts: click for list of awardees

Medical Student Research.  The PMHA awarded competitive summer stipends for research related to medical humanities in collaboration with the University of California Medical Humanities Consortium, 2010-2017.  Examples of research topics include: click for list of projects.  The PMHA has also supervised independent humanities and social science-related research for 4th year medical students.  Examples of this research include: click for list of projects.

Conferences and Symposia. The PMHA regularly sponsors conferences and symposia related to medical/health humanities; and partnered with the UC Irvine Medical Humanities Initiative 2014-2018 to help develop a vibrant medical humanities presence on the main campus.  This included establishing a medical humanities minor, a graduate emphasis in medical humanities, various public lectures and community outreach endeavors, and seed funding for faculty research in medical humanities.