Medical humanities: a new undergraduate teaching program at the University of Geneva School of Medicine, Switzerland

Acad Med. 2003 Oct;78(10):1043-7. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200310000-00022.


In 2001, a new program of medical humanities was initiated at the University of Geneva School of Medicine in Switzerland. Four mandatory seminars and one optional 2-week internship are offered to second-through fifth-year medical students. The program has four interdependent goals: contextualizing, developing personal reflection and judgment, encouraging imagination, and offering specific ways to improve the quality of the therapeutic relationship. The program is based on an integrated vision of the humanities and stimulates the students' imagination and reflection in a way that medical students should find useful. Three steps help teachers to build an integrated vision: familiarization, confrontation, and adjustment to the medical culture. The mandatory seminars are taught by a team consisting of a physician and a humanities teacher. All the physicians, department heads, and clinicians involved in each seminar actively collaborated. The medical humanities program is in the Bioethics Unit, which is housed in the Department of Community Health and Medicine with medical history and legal medicine. This intellectual, institutional, and physical proximity encourages informal dialogue and ensures a more coherent and unified vision of the different disciplines. In their assessments of the program, students stated that the seminars gave them food for thought and met their expectations. However, it is premature to draw conclusions from these assessments because the program is still in its infancy. The program strives to provide students with tools specific to the humanities so that they can strengthen their own judgment, listening skills, open-mindedness, creativity, and curiosity, attributes that are needed to ensure that the therapeutic relationship will be satisfying for both physicians and patients.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / organization & administration*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / trends
  • Humanities / education*
  • Schools, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Switzerland
  • Teaching