Why medical students should take electives in the humanities
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Why medical students should take electives in the humanities

Why medical students should take electives in the humanities

It’s clearly not easy to be a medical student, especially in today’s world where technology is advancing so quickly and breakthroughs in biomedical science are happening all the time.

Machine learning threatens as a substitute to physicians’ clinical judgment. Artificial intelligence is now able to analyse X-rays, MRIs and CT scans, raising questions about the necessity of radiologists. Patients are turning to their smartphones to avoid trips to the doctor or hospital.

But technology can only do so much. Being a good doctor extends far beyond doing what the machines can.

Doctors must also have the right bedside manner and communication skills, be culturally sensitive, show empathy and be patient, all while working excruciating long shifts and dealing with difficult diagnoses.

This has been depicted over and over in popular culture through characters like Dr House and Dr Christina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy – brilliant doctors who lack basic human values like consideration, empathy and affection.

Among the ways to counter this and to ensure medical graduates are well-rounded is to take a humanities elective or two during college.

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine proved this. Medical students reported their exposure to the humanities such as music, literature, theater, visual arts, and completed rating scales measuring selected personal qualities.

The researchers wrote, “Our study empirically confirms what many have intuitively suspected for years: exposure to the humanities is associated with both important personal qualities and prevention of burnout.”

“In fact, one could argue that some of the qualities we measured (tolerance for ambiguity, empathy, emotional appraisal of self and others, resilience) are, together with wisdom, fundamental components of professionalism.”

The researchers recommended to “reintegrate” the humanities in medical education so “wiser, more tolerant, empathetic, and resilient physicians” can be produced.

Here are more reasons why all medical students should take humanities electives whenever possible.

Better doctor-patient connection

Patient-doctor communication is not something to be overlooked. When a doctor is able to establish a good rapport with their patient, they put their patient at ease – helping them open up and confide in their doctor.

Taking classes such as anthropology and history helps medical students learn more about other cultures, which leads them to connect better to patients from diverse backgrounds.

A de-stressing strategy


For many, the stress and anxiety of that come from being a medical student and professional can wear them down before graduation and long after they’ve started practice.

Taking classes like art and music can help take their minds off their looming assignment deadlines and labs, allowing them to process their emotions and de-compress.

It can also make them become more in tune with other people’s emotions, instilling patience and understanding when dealing with emotional patients or their anxious loved ones.

Develops creative thinking

The study of medicine is mostly empirical, but creative thinking shouldn’t be overlooked by budding doctors. Creative thinking is a necessary ingredient in the process of developing innovative solutions to complex problems.

It’s also conducive for learning abstract concepts. According to US News Education, taking humanities and arts courses can enhance one’s imagination and creativity which is invaluable for medical students because it helps them visualise concepts like biochemical pathways, anatomic structures or physiologic processes.

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