Striving to do good things: teaching humanities in Canadian medical schools

J Med Humanit. 2008 Mar;29(1):45-54. doi: 10.1007/s10912-007-9049-6.


We provide the results of a systematic key-informant review of medical humanities curricula at fourteen of Canada's seventeen medical schools. This survey was the first of its kind. We found a wide diversity of views among medical educators as to what constitutes the medical humanities, and a lack of consensus on how best to train medical students in the field. In fact, it is not clear that consensus has been attempted - or is even desirable - given that Canadian medical humanities programs are largely shaped by individual educators' interests, experience and passions. This anarchic approach to teaching the medical humanities contrasts sharply with teaching in the clinical sciences where national accreditation processes attempt to ensure that doctors graduating from different schools have roughly the same knowledge (or at least have passed the same exams). We argue that medical humanities are marginalized in Canadian curricula because they are considered to be at odds philosophically with the current dominant culture of evidence-based medicine (EBM). In such a culture where adhering to a consensual standard is a measure of worth, the medical humanities - which defy easy metrical appraisal - are vulnerable. We close with a plea for medical education to become more comfortable in the borderlands between EBM and humanities approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Curriculum
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humanities / education*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Schools, Medical*