Patients are frequently unhappy with medical care because physicians fail to demonstrate humanistic qualities. Immersion in science is a necessary part of medical education but not sufficient. Courses in the history of medicine, the medical narrative in literature, bioethics, medicine and art, and spirituality and medicine will train physicians who will temper technological medicine with a humanistic touch. The rapid growth in biomedical knowledge and the growing demands upon medical students' time threaten to crowd out time for the humanities. Furthermore, the financing of medical humanities programmes is often tenuous. Medical students must come to understand that much of medical knowledge is a function of time and place, that medicine is a profoundly social enterprise and that the practice of medicine is a value-laden undertaking. The preservation of programmes in the medical humanities will reinforce the social responsibility that should be inherent in medical education.