AMWA Medical Humanities
Medicine and the humanities have been linked since antiquity. Many of the great physicians, including Aristotle, Hippocrates, Maimonides, and Chekhov, exerted influence not only in medicine but also in the arts and humanities, positioning medicine as part of—rather than separate from—intellectual and cultural life. This merging of medicine and the medical humanities provides both an outlet for personal expression as well as an opportunity to foster more enriching care for our patients.
The American Medical Women’s Association embraces an active community of members who enrich their pursuit of medicine through the arts.
AMWA’s medical humanities communities reflect the study and practice of various creative endeavors, including music, visual, literary, history, and performing arts inspired by their intersection with medicine.
Medical Humanities Gains Traction in Medical Education, Scholarship, and Practice
Why are the humanities important within medicine? Literature has suggested that humanistic engagement may offer myriad benefits to both physicians and physicians in training, including improved medical acumen, more empathetic connections with patients and colleagues, and increased satisfaction in the practice of medicine.  When practitioners and students study the human condition from the perspective of one of the arts or social sciences, they are likely to gain a deeper understanding of their patient’s suffering. This insight, in turn, may lead to a more sympathetic sense of disease experience, offering better understanding into its nature, causes, and outcomes.
Medical Humanities Introduces Shared and Related Experiences
Years of training are focused on mastering medical knowledge and ensuring technical competence to practice medicine. There can be a heavy reliance on structure, protocols, and memorization. Some have commented on the absence of higher order cognitive challenges, which would be involved in the critical analysis of thought and ideas, such as those in philosophy, classics and law.” The medical humanities can help fill this void. Rather than being merely additive, integrating medical humanities into medical education and training promises to improve outcomes for the patient and increase compassion and satisfaction for the practitioner.
Many institutions have established medical humanities programs. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) developed the program Fundamental Role of Arts and Humanities in Medical Education (FRAHME) to provide resources for medical educators who wish to incorporate the use of arts and humanities in their teaching.  The journal Medical Humanities has been published by the Institute of Medical Ethics and the British Journal of Medicine since 2000 and presents an international conversation around medicine and its engagement with the humanities and arts, social sciences, health policy, medical education, patient experience and the public at large.
The American Medical Women’s Association proudly showcases the work of our members through several medical humanities communities: Studio AMWA (art), Literary AMWA (writing), Music & Medicine, Dance, Theater & Medicine, Media AMWA (film), and historical exhibits.
Visit AMWA’s online exhibitions to celebrate the medical humanities and consider joining one of these communities.
- Shalev, D., McCann, R. Can the Medical Humanities Make Trainees More Compassionate? A Neurobehavioral Perspective. Acad Psychiatry. 2020;44:606–610. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40596-020-01180-6
- https://www.aamc.org/about-us/mission-areas/medical-education/frahme accessed July 25, 2022.
AMWA Music and Medicine Community
AMWA supports the incorporation of music as an important and complementary therapeutic intervention in the practice of medicine. Music can be beneficial for an array of medical, neurologic, and psychiatric conditions as well as providing a source of healing for both providers and patients in myriad ways. The blending of music into a physician’s practice might be achieved by being introduced in an aspiring physician’s training in medical school or residency. Educational and mentorship opportunities would help achieve this goal, which exists in some medical schools and deserves to be embraced in every medical training institution.
Literary AMWA Community
AMWA members believe narrative medicine can change the way we practice by focusing on the emotional integrity of a patient’s story and how we respond as humane clinicians. Creating narratives focused on the medical experience enables physicians to connect with their patients, reflect upon these individual journeys, create dialogue, empower relationships with fellow healthcare colleagues, and provide a meaningful approach to pursue public health advocacy. Literary AMWA presents a growing gallery of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writing from women physicians and physicians-in-training whose goal is to foster healing through storytelling.
AMWA Studio Community
Studio AMWA is a gallery of art by women who practice the art of science and medicine and by those who believe in them. Rotating exhibits feature a variety of art forms — watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastel, digital, and more. Every year an artist’s work is chosen to be the featured image for AMWA’s annual awards crystal frames. The Studio AMWA committee oversees the Dr. Kathryn Ko Artist-in-Residence program, a year-long program culminating in an artistic project that is displayed (or performed) at the AMWA annual meeting.
Media AMWA Community
Media AMWA is part of AMWA’s growing interest in the medical humanities with a focus on film & medicine. Film has the power to change the way we see the world by offering a different lens and for some, a new perspective. AMWA promotes film as a tool for education and advocacy. The films we feature are relevant to AMWA’s work to improve healthcare, address healthcare disparities, promote gender equity, and empower women.
Dance, Theater, & Medicine