Humanities in undergraduate medical education: a literature review

Acad Med. 2010 Jun;85(6):988-98. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181dd226b.


Purpose: Humanities form an integral part of undergraduate medical curricula at numerous medical schools all over the world, and medical journals publish a considerable quantity of articles in this field. The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which the literature on humanities in undergraduate medical education seeks to provide evidence of a long-term impact of this integration of humanities in undergraduate medical education.

Method: Medline was searched for publications concerning the humanities in undergraduate medical education appearing from January 2000 to December 2008. All articles were manually sorted by the authors. Two hundred forty-five articles were included in the study. Following a qualitative analysis, the references included were categorized as "pleading the case," "course descriptions and evaluations," "seeking evidence of long-term impact," or "holding the horses."

Results: Two hundred twenty-four articles out of 245 either praised the (potential) effects of humanities on medical education or described existing or planned courses without offering substantial evidence of any long-term impact of these curricular activities on medical proficiency. Only 9 articles provided evidence of attempts to document long-term impacts using diverse test tools, and 10 articles presented relatively reserved attitudes toward humanities in undergraduate medical education.

Conclusions: Evidence on the positive long-term impacts of integrating humanities into undergraduate medical education is sparse. This may pose a threat to the continued development of humanities-related activities in undergraduate medical education in the context of current demands for evidence to demonstrate educational effectiveness.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humanities / education*