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Humanities in Medical Education

A study from Tulane and Thomas Jefferson shows the distinctive benefits of engaging in the arts and/or the humanities while in medical school. The results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that such activities helped to promote medical students’ empathy and emotional intelligence, while also warding off burnout.  For the study, the humanities were defined as music, literature, theater and the visual arts. Almost 800 medical students were surveyed across the country. The more students were involved in the humanities, the more their scores rose for openness, visual-spatial skills, and emotional acuity (“the ability to read their own and others’ emotions”). Those who were less involved in the humanities had some negative factors—they scored higher in measurements of “physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion.”

Jefferson is one school that is doing its part to foster medical students’ involvement in the arts through its medical school’s curriculum. The medical school has a Medicine + Humanities Scholarly Track. Tulane also promotes students’ participation in the humanities by offering an elective in the medical humanities. Most notably, almost half of their first-year medical students have degrees in the liberal arts, which is unusual—they clearly value the humanities. More and more medical schools are following suit, as described in this blog post.

Every now and then, articles appear about the importance of the arts and the humanities in medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association has a poetry editor; in a recent article he discusses the “healing power of the arts.” And a medical student at Weill Cornell-Qatar describes her artwork and how/why she thinks being an artist will make her a better physician.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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