How Are the Arts and Humanities Used in Medical Education? Results of a Scoping Review

Acad Med. 2021 Apr 6. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004118. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Although focused reviews have characterized subsets of the literature on the arts and humanities in medical education, a large-scale overview of the field is needed to inform efforts to strengthen these approaches in medicine.

Method: The authors conducted a scoping review in 2019 to identify how the arts and humanities are used to educate physicians and interprofessional learners across the continuum of medical education in Canada and the United States. A search strategy involving 7 databases identified 21,985 citations. Five reviewers independently screened the titles and abstracts. Full-text screening followed (n = 4,649). Of these, 769 records met the inclusion criteria. The authors performed descriptive and statistical analyses and conducted semi-structured interviews with 15 stakeholders.

Results: The literature is dominated by conceptual works (n = 294) that critically engaged with arts and humanities approaches or generally called for their use in medical education, followed by program descriptions (n = 255). The literary arts (n = 197) were most common. Less than a third of records explicitly engaged theory as a strong component (n = 230). Of descriptive and empirical records (n = 424), more than half concerned undergraduate medical education (n = 245). There were gaps in the literature on interprofessional education, program evaluation, and learner assessment. Programming was most often taught by medical faculty who published their initiatives (n = 236). Absent were voices of contributing artists, docents, and other arts and humanities practitioners from outside medicine. Stakeholders confirmed these findings resonated with their experiences.

Conclusions: This literature is characterized by brief, episodic installments, privileging a biomedical orientation, and largely lacking a theoretical frame to weave the installments into a larger story that accumulates over time and across subfields. These findings should inform efforts to promote, integrate, and study uses of the arts and humanities in medical education.