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Injecting human touch to the medical profession
2019-01-07 15:59:18
Liza Tan

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Photo by: Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr

There is a growing trend--or at least, clamor--in medical schools worldwide to teach compassion to would-be doctors, as this factor is unfortunately deemed lacking nowadays in the medical profession.

Medical schools, specialized website Modern Healthcare reports, are now trying to put up programs that go beyond traditional clinical and scientific learning, including emphasizing stuff like compassion and population health.

Dr.John Raymond, CEO of the Medical College of Wilconsin in Milwaukee in America said although doctors are presumably compassionate and caring by nature,  pressures at work like administrative burdens and high emphasis on clinical productivity "can dehumanize medicine."

Meanwhile, New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences Professor of Community Medicine Anand Krishnan pointed out that including humanities in medical education is "the best way to bring back humanism to the profession."

In the same effort to inject human touch among physicians, the American Medical Association recently published a textbook, called "Health Systems Science," to be used in medical schools across America to teach population health, among other topics.  The textbook, released in December 2016, was co-written by members of AMA's Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, which was launched in 2013.

Penn State is one of 32 schools that are part of the consortium, to which the AMA has given about US$12.5 million in grants for the schools to fund their innovative approaches to curriculum reform, like teaching compassion and population health.

Raymond said traditional medical education doesn't emphasize the importance of compassion in patient care.

Seeing such lack of compassion among doctors as a dangerous strain to a healthy doctor-patient relationship, six other medical schools have joined the Raymond's Medical College of Wisconsin to form a group called National Transformation Network also to develop a medical curriculum focused on three components: character, competence, and caring.


The network was put up with a US$37.8 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation, which funds educational initiatives.  The group includes the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, UCSF School of Medicine, and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Raymond said clinical competence is not lacking in medical education, which equips future doctors with the scientific background and clinical skills needed to treat patients.  What's lacking, he pointed out, is the right intention and mindset to care for the vulnerable or the sick.

“We need to make (medical school) feel more real and more directly related to the patient,” Raymond told Modern Healthcare.

As for AMA's intended curriculum reform, the approach is to apply the human factor along with the scientific and clinical competencies already established in medical education, said Dr.Susan Skochelak, AMA's group vice president for medical education and co-author of the new textbook.

The textbook can help medical schools that want to revamp curriculum but don't know how or where to start, Skochelak said.A big challenge, however, is that teachers are still learning and adapting to changes in the industry, she added. 

At the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and Camden, N.J., for example, students are now required to complete 40 hours of community volunteering per year.

The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, one of the schools in the AMA consortium, used its US$1 million, five-year grant to prepare its faculty for curriculum changes before they were adopted.

As for India, community medicine professor Krishnan notes that medical colleges in India usually have a cinema or literary clubs.  But these, he said, do little to promote either cinema or literature. 

"There is a need to go beyond these tokenisms and aim for some structural changes in medical education in India," Krishnan said in blog site The Times of India.

He said it is time for the Medical Council of India to consider the inclusion of arts in the medical curriculum from first year.

"The importance of humanities in medical education is being realized across the globe, and steps are being taken to introduce it in medical schools.India should not be left behind," he said.

According to Krishnan, patients in India today "are being squeezed between incompetence on one side (thanks to a floundering medical education industry) and corruption on the other (thanks to a commission culture set up by drug and investigative industry); and from the top by arrogance of medical professionals"

He said instilling empathy among medical practitioners might be the best way to start addressing all these malpractices in one go. 

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