What Factors Create a Humanistic Doctor? A Nationwide Survey of Fourth-Year Medical Students

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The authors sought to develop a conceptual framework of the factors that most influence medical students' development of humanism and to explore students' opinions regarding the role these factors play in developing or inhibiting humanism.


In 2006–2007, the authors conducted 16 focus groups with fourth-year students and first-year residents at four universities to design a conceptual framework. They used the framework to develop a survey, which they administered to fourth-year medical students at 20 U.S. medical schools in 2007–2008.


Data from 80 focus-group participants suggested that the key influences on students' development of humanism were their authentic, unique, and participatory experiences before and during medical school, and the opportunity to process these experiences. Students who completed the survey (N = 1,170) reported that experiences of greatest intensity (e.g., being involved in a case where the patient dies), participatory learning experiences (e.g., volunteer work, international clinical rotations), and positive role models had the greatest effect on their development of humanism, whereas stressful conditions, such as a busy workload or being tired or postcall, inhibited their humanism. Women and students going into primary care placed significantly greater importance on experiences promoting humanism than did men and those not going into primary care. In addition, students with lower debt burdens viewed such experiences as more important than did those with higher debt burdens.


Students viewed a variety of factors as influencing their development of humanism. This research provides a starting point for enhancing curricula to promote humanism.

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