Medical Humanities

From my understanding, medical humanities are the combination of medicine and humanities in an interdisciplinary endeavor that draws from both creative and intellectual strengths.   The studies of philosophy, religion, literature, and the fine and performing arts could be classified as humanities. In the pursuit of medical educational goals, medical humanities focus on the diverse disciplines of literature, art, creative writing, drama, film, music, philosophy, ethical decision-making, anthropology and history.

The term “doctoring” is another word related to medical humanities. Doctoring requires communication skills, empathy, self-awareness, judgment, professionalism as well as mastering the social and cultural context of illness and health care. In my opinion, medical humanities just make sense and feel right. Today’s medical students usually lack a liberal education and they will be exposed to a culture of medicine that may encourage characteristics of egotism, cynicism and a sense of entitlement.   Studying medical humanities helps students to learn empathy, respect, genuineness and self-awareness to apply to their practice after graduation.

Medical humanities may have different meanings to people but overall, it is a very good thing when practiced correctly. Scientists, nurses and doctors who were taught medicine without incorporating humanities may think that the idea is unnecessary and a waste of time.   It would probably be very difficult to convince someone who was taught strictly medicine to switch to a philosophical mindset.   However, artists and patients and family members may have more of an appreciation for this concept. If a patient is undergoing major medical treatment for serious illnesses or any illness for that matter, it can be very comforting to the patient and their family to have medical and emotional support from their physicians. If someone is going through trauma or illness, the last thing that they need is a doctor talking to them without empathy or understanding. Approaching patients in this cold way may even lead to emotional trauma and mental illness in the patient.

To me, medical humanities are something I hold very close to my heart and feel very passionate about. About a year ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It was an illness that not only affected him, but as a family it was something we all went through together. It was so eye opening to see the strong man who had always taken care of me need to be taken care of. I knew that someday the day would come where I would have to help him with things, but I didn’t expect it to happen when he was only 52.

My dad went in for a regular physical, not expecting it to be any different than the ones before. He had always been very healthy and took good care of himself. It turned out that there were abnormal cells on his scans. The doctor told my dad that if it were him, he would get some extra testing done just to be safe. He then went on to tell my dad that since the cell growth was so slow and there wasn’t much, most doctors wouldn’t think anything of it. After the test results came back, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Since these particular exams are only done every four years, the cancer would’ve progressed much more than it already had. The word cancer is one that you hope and pray you never have to say when talking about a loved one.

The fact that his physician put himself in my dad’s shoes is a great example of what medical humanities is all about. Most doctors might have seen him as just another patient and sent him on his way since it hadn’t caused any problems prior. It wasn’t progressing fast and it could’ve been easily missed. My dad didn’t show any symptoms of cancer. The doctor cared enough about him to go beyond what many would to be positive that nothing was wrong. I am so thankful for this doctor.

After my dad found out that he had cancer, the next step was to figure out a treatment plan. We spoke with a few different hospitals and my dad chose to have his surgery at the Mayo Hospital in Rochester. My family was scared and didn’t know what to expect in the beginning. From the very first appointment, everyone at the Mayo was amazing. They displayed so much compassion for my family and made sure that we knew exactly what would be happening. All the nurses, doctors and surgeons made what could’ve been such an awful and scary day into one that wasn’t so bad. They wanted us to be comfortable and took such great care of my dad. It was very clear that their empathy and kindness was genuine. Not only did they successful cure my dad’s cancer, their benevolence made an impact on my life that I will never forget. Over a year later, the hospital still contacts my family to see how my dad is doing.

Going through something like this changes your life. If the hospital hadn’t been so emotionally supportive, it could’ve been traumatic for us. Being a cancer survivor has changed my dad and it is amazing to see him become even stronger than he was before. His outlook on life is so different and he treats everyday like it is a gift. As difficult as the illness was, I think it was a blessing in disguise. My family is much closer and we all feel the Joys of Surviving even though my dad was the only one sick. My dad talks about how his life has a new meaning and all of the things he wants to do. We have hope for the future and feel very blessed that the outcome was so amazing.

I wish that everyone’s experience with something like this could be as positive as ours was. There are so many people who are battling physical, mental and emotional illnesses that are much more severe than what happened to my dad. I strongly believe that when people show true compassion and humanity, with the right tools anything is possible.



“What is Medical Humanities and Why?” Literature Arts & Medicine Blog. Web. 9 Sept. 2015.

1.Gregory J. Lectures on the Duties and Qualifications of a Physician. London, W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1772. Reprinted in McCullough LB (Ed.) John Gregory’s Writings on Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine, Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998, p. 182.




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