Medical Humanities - a collaboration between science and the arts
3 September 2007
For so many patients, the art of communication - kind words and insightful compassion - mean as much as technical competence in their physician. And for so many clinicians, the chance to pursue talents and interest in music and art, history and literature, or ethics and communication humanises a professional life otherwise constricted by the immediate demands of timed billing, high case loads, and long hours.
Medical humanities programs in medical schools around the world are born of these twin desires: to train more communicative, compassionate doctors and to encourage clinicians to explore the many non-technical aspects of medical experience and practice or to deepen their interests in the creative arts or in history, philosophy and literature. Here at the University of Sydney, Australia’s first medical humanities program is pursuing both goals under the leadership of Dr Claire Hooker, who has been appointed to the first fulltime academic position in the field.
Dr Hooker’s sights are set on three goals: developing research in the medical humanities to attract and support research students; enhancing the medical humanities components of the Graduate Medical Program and providing richer resources to the program; and, most importantly, expanding the learning opportunities for postgraduate students: health and medical practitioners who for one reason or another have returned to the University to explore the aspects of medical practice and experience for which there is no time in the highly pressured programs that train doctors.
Dr Hooker comments that "it is such a privilege to work with such impressive professionals … they range from recent graduates who just aren’t sure that clinical medicine is for them, and who are looking to explore related options perhaps in research or art or music therapy or in communication, to those who have retired from active clinical work and can take the time to indulge their curiosity and imagination in the history, personalities, writing and culture of their profession. Our eldest graduate is 81 – living proof that the mind can remain continuously flexible and inquiring! I am looking forward to learning a lot from my students, and I love my subjects so I’m also thrilled about what I can teach them." She sees learning with this population as an asymmetric but definitely two-way process.
From a deeper involvement in the creative arts to supporting students interested in tracking a specialist subject in the history of ideas or the biography of Australians involved in medicine, the medical humanities is set to expand into a mature, rich higher degree program.
The Medical Humanities Unit is offering a range of postgraduate coursework and research degrees. For more information, please call the Medical Humanities Unit based at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, on 02 9366 343, visit our website www.usyd.edu.au/medicalhumanities or email
The Medical Humanities Unit will be presenting information at the Faculty of Medicine Postgraduate Information Evening on October 10 2007.