Letter: Doctors order a dose of ethics (1)

June 15, 2001

Your feature on the role of humanities in medical education and practice ("Try an aspirin and a bit of Shakespeare", THES , June 1) was welcome in recognising an emerging field of inter-disciplinary study.

Medical humanities is not wholly new. Undergraduate courses in medical sociology, history and more lately ethics have run for some time. But the interdisciplinary aspect is more recent, yet established nonetheless. The University of Wales Swansea has offered an MA in medical humanities since spring 1997 on which part-time students are full-time clinical practitioners.

Swansea is also collaborating with the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff in developing an intercalated one-year BSc in medical humanities that it hopes will be introduced this coming session.

The General Medical Council has called for an undergraduate curriculum that is more imaginative, enabling and patient centred. Medical humanities is one response.

But such a liberal education opens doors to larger rooms. Alongside a rich appreciation of science, medical students are encouraged to engage with the big ideas of our culture and with the small change of human experience.

Those big ideas surely include developing an enduring sense of wonder - philosophically, historically, liter-ally and scientifically - at the mystery of embodied human nature. The small change of human experience is our embodiment in all its richness and variety.

Medical humanities is devoted to bringing the recording and interpretation of human experience right to the heart of medicine. It encourages students to identify, develop and explore their personal and professional values.

These are not just ethical but aesthetic, political, social and intellectual - all crucial to a humanistic clinical practice.

Medical ethics has alerted us to the importance of value-inquiry in medicine. It heralds a broader recognition of the value-rich nature of medical practice. Medical humanities is a response to and a celebration of that nature.

Martyn Evans
Senior lecturer in medical humanities School of Health Science
University of Wales Swansea

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