(1) Humanities and the Illness Experience
(literature, film, the creative arts, poetry, narrative medicine) are intended to
elevate student appreciation of the subjective experience of illness in the lives
of patients, their families, and caregivers. Only by closely observing the illness
experience can students begin to connect with patients as persons, replete with narratives
of hope, anxiety, fear, love, loss, meaning, goals, culture, and treatment preferences.
Student attentiveness to this narrative opens up the possibility of their encountering
patients not just biologically, but as persons rather than mere puzzles. This awareness
is at the very center of the art of medicine, of healing in any full sense of the
word, and it naturally enlivens deeper empathic capacities.
empathy, compassion, respect, humility, justice, loyalty, benevolence, diligence) all unfold from the uptick in narrative consciousness made possible through detailed
humanistic observation. For empathic care to be sustained over the course of a career
the professional virtue of self-care is also important. The humanistic virtues build
the secure relational foundation of trust that is needed for good communication with
patients, and for effective ethical decision making.
(3) Clinical Ethics
attentive listening, , respect for autonomy, empathic communication, confidentiality,
) is more than the application of a set of principles or procedures for approaching
the challenging decisions that patients, families, and caregivers confront daily.
Clinical ethics requires a close attentiveness to the humanistic as well the scientific
details of each case, a skill that can be finely honed through the medical humanities.
Empathic virtues as habits of daily clinical interaction create a safe space for meaningful
dialogue with patients around their values, goals, and choices in which their autonomy
is respected. These humanistic assets can be developed as workable communicative skill
sets with both cognitive and affective dimensions. Clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction,
and provider meaning and well-being are all enhanced when ethical decision making
proceeds in the context of the humanistic virtues.
Our three concentric circles exist in a
surrounding field of healthcare systems
including the healthcare system and finance, health law and policy, justice and access
to care, the science of compassionate care and posthumanism. Compassionate care drives
clinicians and students toward concern for justice according to patient need. Martin
Luther King, Jr., wrote famously of “the love that does justice.” Often patients are
as stressed by navigating insurance and the healthcare system as they are by their
illness itself. Clinicians committed to the good of patients are driven by compassion
to advocate for access to needed medications and other necessary treatments, as well
as ultimately to matters of population health.