Health Humanities and Medical Education: Joined by a Common Purpose
The purpose and value of bedtime stories are easy to understand and support. But what are the purpose and value of stories and other art forms in medical education and health care delivery? In short, what are the contributions of the medical humanities? This important question is worthy of our consideration because as medical education has become competency based with measurable milestones requiring evidence of outcomes, the role of the medical humanities as a contributor to physician competence has come into question. In a literature review, Ousager and Johannessen1 describe the problem of the medical humanities well: “It is, however, very difficult to measure with any certainty to what extent the inclusion of humanities in medical curricula makes better doctors.” Their extensive review concludes that
The historical basis for including the humanities in medical education may provide some guidance about how to approach the threat identified by Ousager and Johannessen. Jones et al2 note that the history of medical humanities is marked by the need for a “cultural transformation that would address the imbalance between technological aspects of medicine and the human facets of health and caregiving.” The authors describe the historical description of medical humanities as “the intersection of medical phenomena (e.g., physicians, patients, illness) and the traditional disciplines of the humanities, including history, literature, philosophy, and visual arts.” Thus medical humanities programs developed partly to provide a counterbalance to the technological and scientific information dominating medical education curricula. Jones et al propose to replace the term medical humanities with a more inclusive term, health humanities, to recognize the numerous nonmedical elements that affect health, such as poverty, education, and race, as well as the participation of many nonphysicians in the health care delivery system.
Health humanities may be justifiably included in curricula for health professionals if the goals of the health humanities and the purpose of medical education are aligned. But what is the purpose of medical education? I suggest that a reasonable purpose of medical education is to prepare students through educational experiences to be doctors who can meet the goals of the Triple Aim: better health, better health care, and lower cost described by Berwick et al.