Teaching Medicine Through the Study of Literature: Implementing a Fourth-Year Distance Learning Elective

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The amount of time medical students must devote to the residency application process has increased, often at the expense of students’ education. The fourth year is still a crucial component of medical education, especially for preparing students for the transition to residency.


To maintain flexibility during the residency interview season and provide students with the opportunity to hone critical skills, faculty at the Florida State University College of Medicine developed a literature and medicine distance learning elective for fourth-year students. The four-week course was offered five times per academic year from 2012 to 2014. Participating students and faculty chose a topic and reading list, which guided both students’ written reflections and the weekly discussions held via video conference. Nineteen students participated, and 13 completed a postcourse survey to gauge their overall impressions of the elective and its effects on their learning.


Participants valued the course for six principal reasons: It (1) provided the opportunity to consider others’ perspectives, (2) improved their ability to think as a physician and examine personal biases, (3) provided the opportunity to discuss nonmedical literature, (4) provided the opportunity to use different cognitive skills, (5) afforded flexibility, and (6) improved their ability to communicate about difficult topics.

Next Steps

The long-term value of a distance learning elective in the humanities remains uncertain. The authors have begun to study students’ perceptions of the elective’s value after entering residency. However, they believe that the initial positive feedback justifies the course’s replication at other institutions.

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