Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Medical Humanities...

It’s been a week since I went to the Medical Humanities Conference in Leicester and I’ve FINALLY got time to blog about it!!!!
I always thought that I would have to chose between English and Medicine, career wise at least. There was nothing stopping me from reading in my spare time (except a distinct lack of spare time) but if I went down the medicine route it would be all science this, and science that. English wouldn’t have a place. It would be shunned into the corner like a naughty puppy.
Then I realised that that wasn’t strictly true. Because of this thing called Medical Humanities.
At Birmingham, Medical Humanities covers all the intercalations that aren’t physiological in nature. So, History of Medicine, Law and Ethics, Psychological Medicine, Public Health and International Health. At Bristol Medical Humanities is completely different. The intercalation I’m doing next year (of the same name) is English Literature, History and Philosophy but with a relation to medicine and science. We do first year English modules and 2nd/3rd year Philosophy modules and then modules designed specifically for our course. It’s my perfect degree :) I used to say that I wished I could do joint honours in English Literature and Medicine. Now I sort of can. I even get a BA!!!!
In my limited opinion, Medical Humanities is one of the few good things about medical education that we have taken from America. Let’s face it, PBL isn’t really working out. But Medical Humanities has been a large thing over there for years now. This website was set up by the New York University School of Medicine in 1994. The blog has stopped being posted on but the database is updated regularly. To get into the John Hopkins School of Medicine, ranked 3rd in the US, you have to have studied the humanities/social science in some form at pre-med level to “foster broad understanding of humankind and the increasingly diverse cultural and social environment of our world”.

Medical Humanities is starting to grow and gain respect in the UK. Many universities, including Leicester, offer an MA in the subject; only one or two offer a BA. It is, however, still in it’s infancy - The Medical Humanities Journal published by the BMJ was only launched in 2000. The conference I attended in Leicester - "The Drama of Medicine: All the Ward's a Stage" - is only the 2nd student conference to be held; there were only about 20 of us and most of the attendees were from Leicester. But as someone who is interested in the subject I thought it was well worth it, even if I did get up at 5:00 am and spent about 6 hours on trains that day (I came home and was in bed and out like a light by 10. Apparently my mum came and stood over me and I didn’t even realise. This is the girl who gets woken up by the birds outside!)

There was a lecture on the use of the word “gift” to describe tissue samples taken from child cancers for research purposes; one about the medical profession in comedy shows (I really want to watch TLC now); a workshop by the Medical Writer’s Society; one given by Prof. Bill Fulford on “Values and Evidence Based Practice” and loads of student presentations which ranged on topics such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Art to the use/benefits of patient narratives and cinemeducation.
I wish I had stayed for the full conference.
I can’t wait for next year :)
I thought the study of humanities was important to medicine before the conference; I’m only reassured of that fact now. And hopefully (assuming I pass my resits) I’ll have a lot more to say about the subject on this blog as the year continues.


  1. Hey, this is totally awesome! I was torn between intercalating with Medical Humanities, and keeping my degree to 5 years- decided against it but I am totally jealous and think it will be an amazing course :D
    Can't believe you came to Leicester! My tutor for my Arts in Medicine SSM, Dr Paul Lazarus, is the president of the Association for Medical Humanities- and we covered pretty much all of those conference topics in our sessions- was he there..? And I seriously had no idea it was going on, or I would've gone! :(
    Also, I love that they showed you TLC- we had a whole AIM session dedicated to medical comedies, where they showed us that :P Wasn't a fan of it though, lol. And my essay was on patient narratives! Such a small world man :)

  2. I have a serious problem remembering what "intercalating" means. But I think I've got it now; IS IT like an extra year of your studies where you get to go and do something else? If I've got that wrong I may curl up in a ball and cry.

    Regardless, this sounds amazing for you :D!!! The philosophy sounds very advanced O_O. I feel scared for you, but I should not project my own philosophical ineptitude onto others. If it's stuff like ethics and stuff you'll love it! It's so interesting! And English - well, it's just a given that you'll love that :).

    Happy for youuuuuuuuuu! Looking forward to hearing all about it :D!

  3. Hi Humaira :) Intercalate!!!!!!!!! I'm really looking forward to mine, mainly though because I just need some time off from medicine.
    Yeah, Dr Lazarus (that is an AWESOME name) opened it and said a few words before disappearing. He seemed really nice. Oh, I wish you'd have come!
    I really liked Tlc when we saw it at the conference but when I was looking for youtube clips I didn't like it as much. They were all very...predictable. And stereotypical. But it made me laugh.
    Such a small world!

    Hi Rosie :)
    No need to cry, you were right :) Most people stay at their own uni but you can go elsewhere.
    Thanks :) I'll make sure I tell you all about it


  4. I'm thinking I don't want to drag out this degree- if I took a year out to do humanities, as enjoyable as it would be, I wouldn't have the willpower to get back into medicine, lol. Needing time off is understandable though, if it means you'll come back refreshed.
    I know, awesome name, imagine if he was your GP?! Man, I wish I'd been there too, would've well enjoyed it! And yeah, they made us watch an episode of it, and it just seemed a bit cardboard- never seen the clip you posted though, that was pretty funny. :)


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