To be a Good Doctor, Study the Humanities

In a recent article in the Pacific Standard, medical doctor Angira Patel discusses her experience and how studying philosophy in college rather than science gave her a distinct advantage. It gave her a well-rounded empathetic point of view that helped her identify better with patients, as well as gave her a critical eye to help analyze and make judgement. She explains:

“As a philosophy major in college before medical school, I believe I learned what it means to be a good doctor equally from my humanities classes as from my science classes. Studying the humanities helps students develop critical-thinking skills, understand the viewpoints of others and different cultures, foster a just conscience, build a capacity for empathy, and become wise about emotions such as grief and loss. These are all characteristics that define a good doctor.”

This finding is not just anecdotal, she explains. It is backed up by numerous studies. In the article, she lists seven studies and schools that advocate for the practice. Humanities in general increase admission rates to medical school and helps students succeed once they are there.

“A 2009 study found that, once they reach medical school, students who majored in humanities as college students perform just as well as, if not better than, their peers with science backgrounds. Furthermore, a 2010 study assessed the medical school performance of humanities and social science majors who omitted traditional science classes in college, versus those who had a traditional pre-medical preparation. Both groups of students performed at an equivalent level in medical school based on clerkship grades. Another study suggested that formal art observation training can improve a medical student’s capacity to make accurate observations of physical findings in a patient.”

Patel goes on to discuss how philosophy and the humanities are a good tool to help counter the current dissatisfaction with the medical profession. Read her comments here. They are worth attending to.


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