Exploring Illness from a Medical Humanities point of view

As the authors state: a lot of energy and time is allocated during medical education on technical procedures and neurbiological explanatory theories. Empathy and professionalism some of the important qualities of a good doctor also according to the CanMEDS framework are threatened to be “up-regulated through education” comparable to serotonergic receptors in the limbic system.

Before medical students undergo a neurobiological training for professionalism medical humanities could help in the evaluation of the patients’ personal experience of the disease and therapy. Moreover, research shows a decline in empathy during medical education and residents’ training.

focus should form the core of a good doctor-patient relationship in which the doctor has empathic skills, such as the ability to appreciate the patients’ emotions and cognitions. Empathy and an appreciation of the patients’ own perception of their illness and treatment have been shown to improve patient adherence, clinical outcome and patients’ as well as doctor’s satisfaction

Since it’s difficult to understand these personal experiences, cognitions and emotions of patients, especially in mental illness such as psychosis, literary fiction could help. Recent research is published on the use of literary fiction and psychotic illness. Students studied the meaning of psychosis in a real life patient and a person in a literary source (The Black Monk by Chekhov).

Given our experiences, we strongly believe that by combining the biomedical issues of an illness with biopsychosocial issues, medical students can learn about medical humanities as well as increase their understanding of the patients’ condition.

The article is a nice overview of the use of literature and medical humanities and the teaching approaches used. Also suggested is a website as source of literature about psychiatry: Madness and Literature.

Kaptein, A., Koopman, J., Weinman, J., & Gosselink, M. (2011). ‘Why, why did you have me treated?’: the psychotic experience in a literary narrative Medical Humanities DOI: 10.1136/jmh.2010.006270