The quarantine of philosophy in medical education: why teaching the humanities may not produce humane physicians

Med Health Care Philos. 1999;2(1):3-9. doi: 10.1023/a:1009936630946.


Patients increasingly see physicians not as humane caregivers but as unfeeling technicians. The study of philosophy in medical school has been proposed to foster critical thinking about one's assumptions, perspectives and biases, encourage greater tolerance toward the ideas of others, and cultivate empathy. I suggest that the study of ethics and philosophy by medical students has failed to produce the humane physicians we seek because of the way the subject matter is quarantined in American medical education. First, the liberal arts are seen as the province of undergraduate education, and not medical school. Second, philosophy, when taught in medical school, is seen by students as just one subject to be mastered along with many other more important ones, and not as a way to foster critical thinking and empathy. What is needed is a new pedagogy that combines both cognitive and affective elements to implant and nourish the liberal arts in students. Removing the quarantine of philosophy from other facets of medical education is an important first step.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Ethics, Medical / education*
  • Female
  • Humanities / education
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Teaching / methods*
  • United States