Toward “Harder” Medical Humanities: Moving Beyond the “Two Cultures” Dichotomy

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Using the current international debate surrounding the incorporation of medical humanities into medical curricula as a starting point, the authors address both the legitimacy and didactics of teaching medical humanities to medical students. They highlight the paradox of the increasing prevalence of medical humanities in medical curricula and the often critical reception humanities courses receive. The alleged lack of empirical evidence linking such courses with improved patient care cannot alone explain the criticism they engender. After a short overview of the debate surrounding medical humanities and their inclusion in outcomes-based education, the authors outline the medical humanities block, “The History, Theory, and Ethics of Medicine,” which is part of the German medical curriculum. A model developed at Ulm University exemplifies the integrated inclusion of the heterogeneous aspects of medical culture into medical education. This model emphasizes a reflexive approach (i.e., understanding how the humanities are manifested in medicine) as an alternative to the currently dominant narrative approach (i.e., liberal arts, moral development, and/or mental retreat), which has gradually been limited to a quasi-“secular religion” for doctors. This model uses established concepts from science and cultural studies as the “instruments” for seminars and courses; paradigms, discourses, social systems, and cosmologies constitute the tools for teaching and learning about the historical, theoretical, and ethical dimensions of medicine. The authors argue that this approach both precludes the need to justify the medical humanities and overcomes the dichotomy that has heretofore existed between the two cultures of science and the humanities in medicine.

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