Medical Humanities is an interdisciplinary field that explores the intersection of medicine, healthcare practices and the human experience through the lens of the humanities, such as literature, philosophy, ethics, history, art.
Professor Linda Turner developed this module for our University in 2008 for first-year undergraduate medical students. Since then, the Medical Humanities module has engaged students with subjects from the field of Arts and Humanities to critically and academically explore topics related to medicine and health, enhancing their medical education and clinical training.
For instance, students can explore the representation of doctors and patients in literature and cinema, engage in discussions about how the media depict the current mental health crisis, or approach the study of the human body through life drawing sessions.
Throughout the entire first semester of Year 1, our medical students collaborate closely with academics, professionals, and local artists to gain new perspectives on medicine, healthcare, and valuable insights about themselves as future clinicians.
Medically Speaking hears from Luca Di Gregorio, Teaching Fellow in Medical Education and Medical Humanities Module Lead, about what makes the module beneficial for students.
How does it enrich our medical programme?
Medical Humanities is particularly valuable in shaping our students into well-rounded healthcare professionals. Our aim is to nurture medical students to go beyond being merely operators following protocols and procedures to become compassionate and empathetic clinicians. By extending medical education beyond the realms of biomedical sciences and clinical skills, we enable our students to develop not only their professional values and behaviours but also their professional identity. Through Medical Humanities students are exposed to an epistemological paradigm which is radically different from the one of the biomedical sciences. This different approach to knowledge requires students to question the field of medicine and, even more importantly, to question themselves.
How does the module impact our students?
Medical Humanities have the potential to create a transformative impact on our students during their journey through medical school, contributing to their development into reflective and compassionate clinicians. I vividly remember the personal experience that two of my students shared with me a few years ago. One student told me that Medical Humanities played a pivotal role in helping them reconnect with their cultural and religious background. Through readings, group discussions, and other activities within the module, this student was able to re-establish a connection with their roots. This experience proved to be extremely valuable, not only for improving their interactions with patients from diverse backgrounds but also for integrating these aspects in their professional life. Another student chose to express their personal experiences of struggle, helplessness, and isolation through a piece of visual art. This artistic endeavour allowed them to articulate their difficult experience of growing up with a medical condition that doctors, unfortunately, had failed to diagnose and treat effectively. This led to their determination to become a clinician who pays greater attention to psychological factors when treating patients.
The experience of these students demonstrates that Medical Humanities is an invaluable component of our medical programmes as it promotes a more comprehensive approach to patient care that integrates both the scientific and humanistic aspects of medicine.
What are the distinctive aspects that make the Medical Humanities in Southampton unique compared to other institutions?
The Medical Humanities module is mandatory for all first-year undergraduate medical students as we are particularly keen on providing and promoting an innovative, creative, and interdisciplinary approach to medicine from the very beginning of medical school. Our academic partnerships and extracurricular initiatives also contribute to make the Medical Humanities in Southampton stand out. At a local level, we encourage and nurture collaborations between medical educators, healthcare professionals and scholars from the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
Our relationship with the Faculty of Arts and Humanities has resulted in the foundation of the Southampton Centre for Medical and Health Humanities which works to continue to strengthen cross-faculty collaborations and promoting the exceptional work of our students.
This academic year, we are going to relaunch the centre through a broad range of exciting events, such as a physical exhibition of the artworks created by our medical students, interactive workshops, academic talks, and research activities.
At a national level, we have developed collaborations with academics, researchers, and artists based in other UK universities. For instance, we are currently organising two workshops on corporeal pedagogies which will be run by scholars and artists from Newcastle University and will be hosted by the Southampton Arts and Humanities Festival in collaboration with the Southampton Institute of Arts and Humanities (SIAH).
Why is it important to provide this to medical students?
Medical Humanities foster critical thinking and promote personal insights. Students are encouraged to recognise the potential impact of their attitudes, values, beliefs, and personal biases. It is crucial for future clinicians to be aware of how they come across when interacting with people, whether they are colleagues or patients.
For some students, it provides a safe space to discuss their own struggles with certain conditions, characteristics or experiences that they may perceive as obstacles to becoming doctors, but in reality, may make them better clinicians by emphasising their own resilience, compassion, and humanity. Additionally, becoming a doctor today, requires a certain level of awareness of the socio-political context and the current challenges. These include resource strains in the NHS, the rise of mental health issues, providing care for a diverse patient population that includes migrants and refugees, and addressing issues of retention for junior doctors. By fostering intercultural communication skills, promoting an understanding of power structures and dynamics, facilitating ethical decision-making, and raising awareness about planetary health among our students—areas all covered in Medical Humanities—we aim to actively contribute to creating a healthcare system that embodies principles of social justice. Medical Humanities is an extremely effective way to prepare our students, not only for clinical settings but also to become well-rounded and compassionate doctors of the 21st century.
Morgan Blanc is currently on the University’s BM5 course in his fourth year (5th year of study after his intercalation). He speaks to Medically Speaking about undertaking the Medical Humanities module. Read his interview here.