Objectives: There is increasing interest in the role of medical humanities within the undergraduate curriculum, but we know little about medical students' views on this or about their reading habits. Our study explored the reading habits of medical students, and their attitudes towards literature and the introduction of humanities into the curriculum.
Design: Self-completion questionnaire survey.
Setting: Newcastle University and Medical School.
Subjects: All first-, second- and third-year undergraduate medical students (384), biology students (151) and a random sample of law students (137) were sent a self-completion questionnaire to assess reading levels, attitudes towards literature and the medical humanities (medical students) and the perceived benefits of reading.
Results: Medical students read widely beyond their course and articulate a range of benefits from this, including: increasing awareness of life outside their experience; introspection or inspiration; emotional responses; and stimulation of an interest in reading or literature. Of the medical students, 40% (103/258) read one or more fiction books per month, but 75% (193) read fewer non-curricular books since starting university, largely because of time pressures, work, study or academic pressures and restricted access to books. A total of 77% (194) thought that medical humanities should definitely or possibly be offered in the curriculum, but of these 73% (141) thought it should be optional and 89% (172) that it should not be examined.
Conclusions: Medical students read literature for a variety of very positive and valued reasons, but have found leisure reading harder to maintain since starting university. They support inclusion of the humanities in medical education, but have mixed views on how this should be done.