Curing the Medical Profession: The Trend of the Medical Humanities and Its Implications
Mentor:Kay Ryals, Professor of English, Irvine Valley College
Far too often, patients feel that doctors do not address them in all of their human dimensions, but instead service their bodies like a mechanic services automobiles. Though the traditional medical school education prepares its students with knowledge by focusing rigorously on man as a biological unit, understood in terms of cellular processes, chemical and electrical signals, or metabolic pathways, it seems to overlook an important truth: that illness upsets more than a biological system—it stresses the entire human. This research surveys existing developments in medical school education that attempt to address the perceived shortcomings of modern medical practice, synthesizes scholarly articles that both advocate and question the efficacy of this “cure,” and seeks to understand the implications of this curriculum for medical practice. The antidote for physician insensitivity—known as the medical humanities—supplements the traditional medical education with courses in the humanities: history, ethics, literature, and performing arts. Though the medical humanities curriculum has not been standardized, all programs aim to shape better doctors by instilling in future physicians a more holistic understanding of patients and by offering practice in the interpersonal skills that can enhance patient care. Well-rounded doctors who understand medicine as a social practice situated within in a particular historical and personal context can also perceive more fully the inexact nature of a field that has long been seen in dichotomous black and white. The acknowledgement of that intangible, unscientific aspect of medicine can be the thin line that separates a mediocre doctor from a fantastic one because it will determine how he interacts with his patients, and how he heals.