Medical schools continue adding arts and humanities into curricula, but they need to do even more, according to a new study by four professors at Oakland University and OUWB.

OU, OUWB study finds medical schools need more arts and humanities
Arts and Humanities in Medicine

Medical schools continue adding arts and humanities into curricula, but they need to do even more, according to a new study by four professors at Oakland University and OUWB.

Integration of Arts and Humanities in Medical Education: a Narrative Review” recently was published in the American Association for Cancer Education’s Journal of Cancer Education.

The four authors of the study are all from Oakland University: Rachel Smydra, Ph.D., professor, Department of English; Matthew May, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Sociology; Varna Taranikanti, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor; and Misa Mi, Ph.D., professor, both from OUWB’s Department of Foundational Medical Studies.

The narrative review examined literature from about three dozen medical schools that showed educators are implementing didactic and experiential instructional approaches to embedding the arts, humanities, and social sciences into the medical school classroom.

However, the review recommended “more deliberate attempts to offer consistent, required course or learning experiences that include elements of (arts and humanities) throughout educational programs.” The review also recommends that educators find ways to better measure the effectiveness of arts and humanities in medical schools.

Mi says the review is all about shining light on the important role medical educators play in helping future health care providers get in touch with themselves so that they can eventually form the best possible connection with their patients.

“Just taking care of patients is not enough,” she says.

“You have to really understand emotions, relationships with others and how that can affect feelings, and human culture and how that might affect a patient’s perception of illness.”

“If physicians don’t attend to those feelings and emotions, patients are much more likely to not comply with treatment,” adds Mi.

She says that’s where the arts and humanities can come into play.

‘More than proficiency in basic sciences’

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), “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, relations outcomes such as empathy, communication, and teamwork, and transformational outcomes at the level of professional identity formation and advocacy.”

Talent Show
Josh Daniel, M2, OUWB, played guitar during his part of the virtual talent show held Feb. 5, 2021.

The review by OU and OUWB faculty notes that AAMC changed the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in 2015 “to highlight an increased need for medical schools to embed components of liberal arts in their curricula.”

That has led medical educators to implement more connections to creative writing, literature, theater, movies, music, and the visual arts into their curricula.

Mi says a book or movie like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest may help students understand challenges for patients with mental illnesses; music may help reduce stress, and paintings may help with interpretation and observational skills.

At OUWB, some classes incorporate musical elements, such as exposure to opera, while others include medical improv sessions and writing narratives, just to name a few.

“By adding sections on behavioral and social sciences and critical analysis and reasoning to the MCAT, AAMC’s actions acknowledged it takes more than proficiency in basic sciences to become a competent and compassionate physician,” the review states.

Taking a cue from AAMC, Mi says in 2019 she led the formation of Oakland University’s Learning Community for Integrating Arts and Humanities to Health Professions Education, established through the OU Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

‘Learn collectively’

The OU Learning Community is a forum for faculty, staff, and students to explore, learn, discuss, and investigate how the integration of arts and humanities impacts health profession students.

Mi says she wanted a group of faculty members from various disciplines to participate so that they “could work together, learn collectively, and provide events to help students learn the importance of those disciplines.”


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Nearly 30 faculty members from across OU signed on to be part of the LC. The group received a small grant used to bring in experts on topics related to arts and humanities. The LC also worked with OUWB students to produce virtual talent and art shows held in early 2021.

Further, the LC led to the formation of a research interest group that included the authors of the review published in the Journal of Cancer Education.

The authors selected 34 articles from around the world that met their criteria for inclusion. They looked at how some schools use literature and creative writing, theater, movies, and music, and visual arts in medical education curricula.

Smydra was lead author, and says that while literature on the topic is limited, the review indicates that “(arts and humanities) can definitely play a role in medical education.”

“It’s a good vehicle for enhancing patient-doctor relationships…for offering perspectives and critical reflection, which is so important,” she says.

By having the work published, Smydra says her hope is that others will see the benefits and make change accordingly.

“Maybe schools will really start measuring these particular aspects (of medical school) education…when to embed them and how to do that successfully so that students walk away with an enhanced understanding that they can employ in their practice,” she says.

Mi says it makes sense to publish the review in the Journal of Cancer Education.

“Humanistic medicine is so important because patients are not just cases…they are human beings,” says Mi. “My hope is that those who read this article understand the importance of the humanistic perspective, especially those who deal with patients who have cancer because it really takes a toll on a person and their family and friends.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at [email protected]

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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