What is Humanism in Medicine?

Humanism in medicine includes a variety of approaches that emphasize the importance of the human experience in the practice of medicine and delivery of care. There has been a shift in the health care landscape that focuses more on patient- and person-centred health care.1 Medical education must evolve to better prepare future physicians for partnering effectively with patients and families, and to integrate evidence-based medicine with a commitment to humanism, caring, equity, and justice.2, 3

One such approach is connecting students with patients, and recognizing the power of patients’ stories and personal lived experiences. Initiatives that promote discussion between real patients and medical students through a patient-centred model acknowledge that real patients are experts and partners in medical curriculum.1, 4, 5 Evidence shows that patients’ stories have the ability to communicate meaning through emotions, to invite identification with other people, to recognize difference and diversity, and to convey ambiguity and uncertainty.6 Such stories thus call for recognizing the human, social, and ethical dimensions of illness and medical care.

How the Patient as Teacher Program Promotes Humanism in Medicine

The Patient as Teacher program uses this patient-centred approach to promote and foster humanism in medicine. Patient-driven sessions are led by 2-3 cancer survivors who share their personal stories, experiences with the health care system, and perspectives on how their illness has impacted their lives. Students listen, engage in dialogue, and ask questions. This collaboration actively involves patients and survivors in the education process as partners in teaching, feedback, and evaluation.7

Selected References and Further Reading

  1. Bleakley A, Bligh J. 2008. Students learning from Patients: Let’s Get Real in Medical Education. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 13: 89-107.
  2. Weinberger SE, Johnson BH, Ness DL. 2014. Patient- and Family-Centered Medical Education: The Next Revolution in Medical Education? Annals of Internal Medicine, 161(1): 73-76.
  3. Gaufberg E, Hodges B. 2016. Humanism, compassion and the call to caring. Medical Education, 50: 264-266.
  4. Luckner H, Daucet S, Wells S. 2012. Patients as educators: the challenges and benefits of sharing experiences with students. Medical Education, 46: 992-1000.
  5. Jha V, Quinton ND, Bekker HL, et al. 2009. Strategies and interventions for the involvement of real patients in medical education; a systematic review. Medical Education, 43: 10-20.
  6. Kumagai AK. 2008. A Conceptual Framework for the Use of Illness narratives in Medical Education. Academic Medicine, 83(7): 653-658.
  7. Towle A, Bainbridge L, Godolphin W, et al. 2010. Active patient involvement in the education of health professionals. Medical Education, 44: 64-74.