Just a spoonful of humanities makes the medicine go down: introducing literature into a family medicine clerkship

Med Educ. 2005 Jun;39(6):605-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2929.2005.02178.x.


Background: This project introduced medicine-related poetry and prose to a Year 3 family medicine clerkship with the purpose of determining students' perception of the usefulness of such materials to enhance empathy, improve patient management, and reduce stress. Although humanities are represented in the curricula of many medical schools, we need more information on how best to incorporate them during the clinical years.

Method: In 2000, we used a needs assessment survey to identify learner perceptions of medical humanities. Using this information, in 2001-03 we developed and implemented a humanities-based curriculum consisting of readings linked to clinical vignettes, comments about humanities reading in required clinical Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan (SOAP) notes, and either station-specific or general poetry accompanying student end-of-clerkship objective structured clinical examinations. We collected both quantitative and qualitative data assessing student reactions and examined the data using non-parametric statistics and content analysis, respectively.

Results: Students showed moderate interest in incorporating humanities in medical education as a way of enhancing empathy, improving understanding and reducing frustration. Assessment of the clerkship humanities curriculum suggested a positive influence on students in terms of empathy for the patient's perspective, and a lesser, but still positive, impact on patient management.

Discussion: Responses from this group of learners suggest that there is receptivity toward introducing medical humanities into family medicine curricular venues and that such effort can have a generally positive effect on learner empathy, awareness and understanding toward patients and doctors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Clerkship / methods*
  • Curriculum
  • Family Practice / education*
  • Humanities / education*
  • Needs Assessment
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Poetry as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States