Reforming medical education in ethics and humanities by finding common ground with Abraham Flexner

Acad Med. 2010 Feb;85(2):318-23. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181c85932.


Abraham Flexner was commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to conduct the 1910 survey of all U.S. and Canadian medical schools because medical education was perceived to lack rigor and strong learning environments. Existing proprietary schools were shown to have inadequate student scholarship and substandard faculty and teaching venues. Flexner's efforts and those of the American Medical Association resulted in scores of inadequate medical schools being closed and the curricula of the survivors being radically changed. Flexner presumed that medical students would already be schooled in the humanities in college. He viewed the humanities as essential to physician development but did not explicitly incorporate this position into his 1910 report, although he emphasized this point in later writings. Medical ethics and humanities education since 1970 has sought integration with the sciences in medical school. Most programs, however, are not well integrated with the scientific/clinical curriculum, comprehensive across four years of training, or cohesive with nationally formulated goals and objectives. The authors propose a reformation of medical humanities teaching in medical schools inspired by Flexner's writings on premedical education in the context of contemporary educational requirements. College and university education in the humanities is committed to a broad education, consistent with long-standing tenets of liberal arts education. As a consequence, premedical students do not study clinically oriented science or humanities. The medical school curriculum already provides teaching of clinically relevant sciences. The proposed four-year curriculum should likewise provide clinically relevant humanities teaching to train medical students and residents comprehensively in humane, professional patient care.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / history*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards
  • Ethics, Medical / education*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humanities / education*
  • Humans