AMWA Medical Humanities
The American Medical Women’s Association embraces an activity community of women physicians who enrich their pursuit of medicine through the arts. Women in medicine express their vision through art, film, music, the written word, and the spoken word. The four medical humanities communities reflect the study and practice of various creative endeavors, including music, visual, literary, and performing arts inspired by medical care or by medical professionals.
While the medical humanities represent an emerging field, medicine and the humanities have been linked since antiquity. Many of the great physicians including Aristotle, Hippocrates, Maimonides, and Chekov, 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.
Medical Humanities Gains Traction in Medical Education, Scholarship, and Practice
Proponents of the medical humanities suggest that humanistic engagement may offer myriad benefits to physicians and medical students, including improvements in medical acumen, deeper connections with patients and colleagues, and more personal satisfaction in the practice of medicine.
The first and perhaps the most obvious rationale for engaging in the medical humanities is that when students and practitioners 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. In turn, this fuller insight may lead to a more sympathetic sense of disease experience, offering better insights into its nature, causes, and outcomes.
For many years, referring to the development and production of a safe doctor could sum up the primary requirement of core medical training. But today, many would argue that the phrase “safe doctor” should include the ability to interact with patients in a perceptive manner. Patients do not feel safe, and may not even be safe when their physician either fails to communicate clearly or does so in ways that result in unheeded advice.
The failure to communicate or to show some understanding is said to contribute to a disproportionate number of cases coming before medical disciplinary committees. Just a minimum exposure to the medical humanities during training such that students learn the critical value and impact of their verbal and non-verbal responses with patients may lessen the likelihood of complaints about care.
Medical Humanities Introduces Shared and Related Experiences
A second, and to some more persuasive reason for studying the humanities has to do with the nature of medical education. A medical student spends years focused on gaining technical competence in the acquisition of a series of specialist vocabularies—the languages of biochemistry, genetics, and pharmacology as well as the traditional vernacular of anatomy, physiology, and clinical disorders. This means much time is given to memorizing. In evaluating the curriculum, many educators point regretfully to the absence of opportunity to expose this particular group of students to higher-order cognitive challenges, especially those involved in the critical analysis of ideas as exemplified in such disciplines as philosophy, classics, and law.
For instance, the Association of American Medical Colleges is currently in the second phase of a broad project to “better delineate the current landscape of the arts and humanities in medicine and determine how best to approach a broader effort to integrate them,” involving a review of current practices and the formation of a committee charged with incorporating the medical humanities into medical education.
The introduction of the medical humanities as a core part of the curriculum affords the medical student with a more accessible and often easier outlet to moderate the “conveyor belt” aspect of medical education, an advantage already experienced by schools running successful options programs. [2,3,4]
The journal, Medical Humanities has been published by the Institute of Medical Ethics and the British Journal of Medicine since 2000 presents the 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.
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 concerning patient care for the practitioner.
The American Medical Women’s Association proudly showcases the talents our members through four medical humanities communities: AMWA Music & Medicine Community, Literary AMWA, AMWA Studio Community, and Media AMWA.
Visit AMWA’s online exhibitions to celebrate the medical humanities and consider joining one of our communities.
History of Women in Medicine
- 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
- Grant VJ. Making room for medical humanities. Med Humanit. 2002;28(1):45-48.
- The role of arts and humanities in physician development: from fun to fundamental [Internet]. AAMC. Available at www.aamc.org/what-we-do/mission-areas/medical-education/humanities. Accessed June 10, 2021.
- Wang F, Song Z, Zhang W, Xiao Y. Medical humanities play an important role in improving the doctor-patient relationship. Biosci Trends. 2017; 23;11(2):134-137. doi: 10.5582/bst.2017.01087.
AMWA Music and Medicine Community
We support 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
Through a gallery of published writing, 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 react 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.
Media AMWA Community
Media AMWA is part of AMWA’s growing interest in the medical humanities with a focus on Film & Medicine. We employ the power of film as a tool for education and advocacy. The films this community features are relevant to AMWA’s work to improve healthcare, address healthcare disparities, promote gender equity, and empower women.
Dance, Theater, & Medicine