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Ideas and Opinions |

The Humanities, Humanistic Behavior, and the Humane Physician: A Cautionary Note

ROBERT M. ARNOLD, M.D.; GAIL J. POVAR, M.D.; and JOEL D. HOWELL, M.D.
[+] Article and Author Information

Grant support: in part from the Kellogg National Fellowship Program (Dr. Povar).

▸Requests for reprints should be addressed to Robert M. Arnold, M.D.; Clinical Scholars Program, 2L NEB School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, PA 19104-6094.


Providence, Rhode Island; Washington, D.C.; and Ann Arbor, Michigan


©1987 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1987;106(2):313-318. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-106-2-313
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Efforts to teach and evaluate humanistic qualities in physicians in residency training are marred by ambiguous goals. The humane physician can be characterized by four distinct qualities: technical competence, humanistic attitude, knowledge of humanistic concepts, and humanistic behavior. Education in the humanities can foster humanistic attitudes, but it cannot promise to lead to changes in behavior. Likewise, although formal training in communication teaches the skills necessary for humanistic behavior, without an understanding of humanistic concepts these skills may not serve medical or moral ends. Evaluation of the humane physician must also include modalities that test attitude, knowledge, and behavior. Testing one characteristic does not ensure competence in other areas; knowledge of the requirements for informed consent, for example, does not guarantee one's ability to discuss this concept effectively with patients. In this article, we suggest ways to combine the humanities and communication skills in the clinical setting and we emphasize both the training and the evaluation of humane physicians.

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