Can medical humanities impart empathy and resilience skills to medical students?

Hayley Berman, Alan Schamroth, Neil Spencer

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The contribution of the Medical Humanities to a comprehensive medical education has been discussed elsewhere (Schamroth A. 2018), but what has been difficult to demonstrate is whether it has any measurable quantitative impact on improving student’s empathy or resilience. This small project was an attempt to further explore this question.
Medical students at University College London Medical School spend approximately one day every month (9 per year) during their first clinical year within a primary care setting in a programme called “Medicine in the Community” (MIC). The structure of the day involves students seeing patients under the supervision of General Medical Practitioners.
In this ethically approved research project (UCL) conducted over the academic year 2017- 2018, a non-selected group of 24 students, received an intensive version of this MIC programme in the morning, but in the afternoon were exposed to medical humanities. This included discussing poetry with a medical focus, creative writing based on the students own clinical experiences, watching and listening to carefully selected opera scenes where a health-related issue was illustrated and finally an experiential group based psychotherapy process using body mapping which facilitated the exploration of the interrelationship between mind and body within the context of the outside world.
A second group of 18 medical students who received the conventional MIC experience acted as the control.
Both groups were given empathy and resilience questionnaires at the beginning and end of the year.
The results showed that the students who experienced the afternoon humanities programme scored significantly higher than the control group in the empathy questionnaire (in 3 of 20 questions) and better in the resilience questionnaire, although the latter did not reach statistical significance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number218
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2020


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