Faith T. Fitzgerald, MD
Fitzgerald FT. Curiosity. Ann Intern Med. 1999;130:70-72. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-130-1-199901050-00015
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 1999;130(1):70-72.
About 15 years ago, when I was dean of students at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, yet another of the periodic paroxysms of “holism” in medicine occurred. Several importunate politicians called to tell me that, in their opinion—which presumably reflected that of their constituents—medical students, by selection or by their isolation by the medical curriculum, were insensitive, mechanistic, technocratic, inhumane brutes. The solution, these politicians insisted, was the intercalation of humanities courses into an already crowded curriculum.
I had several concerns about this. The first was that the addition of required courses in literature, drama, sociology, music, and art might actually limit students' opportunities to read, go to the theater, be with friends and family, and attend a symphony or museum. Even if one argues that students would not have done these things anyway—possessed as they were by the intricacies of glucose metabolism—the addition of these courses would cut down on contemplative time, volunteerism in free clinics, hobbies, and sleep. Second, I wondered what evidence supported the idea that being well versed in the humanities made one more humane. I was encouraged in my skepticism by the knowledge that perhaps the most broadly educated of physicians at the beginning of this century practiced in Germany. Moreover, I could not understand why science—a most human pursuit, the exercise of which is one of the defining characteristics of our species—should make students “inhumane.” I decided to do a “scientific” study of the effects of humanities courses on humaneness in medical students.
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