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The Role of Arts and Humanities in Physician Development: From Fun to Fundamental

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Academic medicine must define, build, and continuously improve upon the practices and environments that allow physicians to provide optimal care for their patients, to collaborate with their fellow health care professionals, and to care for themselves. A growing evidence base suggests that learning experiences that integrate arts and humanities within curricula may lead to a variety of important learning outcomes. These include skills-based outcomes such as honing observation and interpretation skills, relational outcomes such as empathy, communication, and teamwork, and transformational outcomes at the level of professional identity formation and advocacy. The arts can spark joy and enhance renewal. The range of the humanities and arts that can inform medical learning and, ultimately, patient care is quite vast and includes literature, philosophy, ethics, history, religion, creative and reflective writing, visual arts, music, media, film, and theater. There is more to be understood about the qualities of the arts that facilitate learning, pedagogical strategies that support engagement with the arts, and ways to translate arts and humanities–based learning experiences to clinical practice.

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, in July 2017, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) jointly held the Thought Leaders Forum. This forum, funded by an NEH grant, was Phase I of an initiative to articulate the humanities and arts foundations for the practice of medicine. From this forum developed the initiative’s Phase II, whose Parts are detailed below.

I. Scoping Review (Phase II, Part I)

A Request for Proposals for a systematic scoping review on how the humanities and arts are being used toward the development of healthcare professionals has been disseminated to academic researchers in the field of health professions education, humanities, and/or arts education, for a robust and broad-view synthesis of the current evidence and efforts to integrate arts and humanities into medical education curricula. The research team was identified in March 2019. Read more about the team (PDF)

II. Humanities and Arts Integration Committee (Phase II, Part II)

The AAMC and select partners will convene a group of educators, clinicians, researchers, historians, artists,and communications experts from representative member institutions throughout the United States—and relevant affiliate organizations—to determine and advance the role of humanities and the arts in medical education and physician development. The group, to be known as the Humanities and Arts Integration Committee, will be charged with the following responsibilities, which were originated at the Phase I Thought Leaders’ Forum.

  • Recommending a statement of value and commitment toward integration of humanities and the arts in the professional development of physicians—particularly in the areas of resilience, communication, tolerance for ambiguity, clinical skills, empathic and patient-centered care, and others that may be identified by the scoping review and environmental scan;

  • Examining the linkage and development of health humanities undergraduate and graduate degree programs and how this emerging field will impact medical education; 

  • Proposing strategies for achieving integration of humanities and arts across the educational and professional development experience of students pursuing the M.D. degree and physician faculty in practice; and

  • Considering the means and consequences of stating this need and commitment on our member institutions.

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