“The Doctor as a Humanist”: The Viewpoint of the Students

Conference Report and Reflection by Poposki Ognen (University Pompeu Fabra); Castillo Gualda Paula (University of Balearic Islands); Barbero Pablos Enrique (University Autonoma de Madrid); Pogosyan Mariam (Sechenov University); Yusupova Diana (Sechenov University); and Ahire Akash (Sechenov University)

Day 3 of the Symposium, students’ section, Sechenov University, Moscow.
Day 3 of the Symposium, students’ section, Sechenov University, Moscow.

 

The practice of Medicine as a profession has become very technical; doctors rely on fancy investigations, treatment algorithms and standardized guidelines in treating patients. In a lot of universities, medical students and residents are trained without appreciating the importance of art and the humanities in delivering good care to patients and their families. Factual knowledge is imposed on us, as students, from scientific evidence delivered by highly specialized professionals: those who know more and more about niche subjects.

As a result, when someone decides to become a doctor, it seems that scientific training is the sole priority, with most attention being given to the disease-treatment model. As medical students, we are taught very specific subjects, leaving little or no space or time for any cultural enrichment programs. And yet, Personal growth as a doctor and a human being cannot be achieved unless one is exposed to the whole range of human experience. Learning from art and artists can be one such means of gaining these enriching experiences. We can learn from historians, and from eminent painters, sculptors, and writers, as well as from great scientists. How do we achieve these ends? The following essay summarizes and reviews one attempt at providing answers. The 2nd “Doctor as a Humanist” Symposium took place at Sechenov University in Moscow from the 1st to the 3rd of April, 2019, to explore the holistic perspective of interpersonal treatment.

To begin our essay, we would like to clarify some key concepts, such as culture, humanism and humanities, as they were employed at the conference. Culture is a complex phenomenon that includes knowledge, beliefs, artistic production, morals, customs and skills acquired by being part of a society, which can be transmitted consciously or unconsciously, by individuals to others and through different generations.

The humanities are academic disciplines that study the cultural aspects and frailties of being human, and use methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, which distinguish them from the approaches of the natural sciences. Humanism is the practice of making the human story central. Consequently, the studies of humanities, so invested in human stories, is one aspect of practicing humanism.

Technological and practical progress in medicine has been impressive in the past fifty years. Nevertheless, patients still suffer from chronic conditions such as heart failure, chronic lung disease, depression, and many others. These are conditions where technology cannot significantly change the outcomes or reverse the underlying condition. One of the ways to alleviate suffering is through compassion and empathy where the doctor is a professional who listens to, understands and comforts the patient, as well as engaging the patient as a fellow human being. We need arts and humanities as doctors’ tools to comfort and, perhaps, even to heal. We also need them to remind us that we are ‘merely human’ ourselves, and that we share our humanity with our patients, as equals.

Unquestionably, there are fundamental requirements that every physician must internalize; the conference goal was to explain that one such requirement is the humanistic view. Opera, poetry, philosophy, history, the study of dialectics, biographical readings, and even volunteering abroad can be means of engaging the world for positive change. Sometimes called  “soft” skills, these are in fact necessary and valuable qualities to empower ourselves as persons, as well as doctors. The 2nd The Doctor as a Humanist Symposium placed the corner stone in a global project that aims to understand medicine as a multidisciplinary subject, and to establish the concept of humanistic medicine both as a science and an art where the patient and the doctor are human beings working together.

The international group of students after presenting their projects.
The international group of students after presenting their projects

 

STUDENT PARTICIPATION

The event united experts in Medicine and the Humanities from all over the world. The speakers (doctors, nurses and students) were from Russia, the USA, the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Mexico and more. Each day’s program was both intense and diverse, and included plenary lectures and panel sessions. Medical students were highly involved in all parts of the conference, offering us a great chance to introduce our projects, share our opinions on various topics, and discuss our questions connected with the role of the humanities in medicine.We participated in roundtable discussions, which were chaired by experts from different countries. Even though this made us nervous, at the same time it was very important for us, as students, to be a part of it. We discussed the future of medical humanities from various perspectives, and above all our thoughts and ideas were listened to and commented on, on an equal basis with the world’s experts. For once, we could see that our views were being taken into consideration, and we hope that in the future this will be the norm and NOT the exception. We are the future of medicine, and our voices should be heard, too.

At the end of the first day there was a students’ session, where we gave our opinions on the relative importance of the medical humanities from a multicultural viewpoint, and on this particular roundtable there were students from Russia, Spain, Iran, Mexico, Italy, as well as a Nursing resident. One of the students during the session shared her view that “I would like to see medicine through the lens of humanism and empathy, and also implement all its principles in my professional life on a daily basis”. All participants agreed, and although we were representing different countries and cultures there was no disagreement about this. Even though we have not yet faced many of the obstacles of the world of medicine, we can see the role of compassion in clinical practice better perhaps than our seniors. We shared our points of view about this question and its relevance in the different countries. It was an incredible moment, as experts and professors demonstrated a great interest in our ideas.

 

DIVERSITY

The program was extremely diverse; however, the main idea that most speakers expressed was how to find, sustain and not lose humanist goals. Brandy Schillace gave an impressive presentation entitled “Medical Humanities today: a publisher’s perspective”, which studied the importance of writing and publishing not only clinical trials, but also papers from historians, literary scholars, sociologists, and patients with personal experiences. The nurses Pilar d’Agosto and Maria Arias made a presentation on the topic of the Nursing Perspective that is one of the main pillars of medical practice. Professor Jacek Mostwin (Johns Hopkins University) shared his thoughts on patients’ memoirs. An Italian student, Benedetta Ronchi presented the results of an interview on medical humanities posed to the participants and speakers during the symposium. The plurality of perspectives made this conference an enriching event and showed us how diverse ideas can help us become better doctors. More importantly, it reminded us of our common humanity.

A significant part of the symposium was dedicated to Medicine and Art. Prof Josep Baños and Irene Canbra Badii spoke about the portrayal of physicians in TV medical dramas during the last fifty years. The book “The role of the humanities in the teaching of medical students” was presented by these authors and then given to participants as gifts. Dr Ourania Varsou showed how Poetry can influence human senses through her own experience in communicating with patients. She believed that many of the opinions and knowledge that we have internalized should be unlearned in order to have a better understanding of the human mind. The stimulus of poetry makes this possible. Poetry allows us to find new ways to express ourselves, and thus increase our emotional intelligence and understanding of other people’s feelings.

One of the most impressive lectures was by Dr Joan.B Soriano, who spoke about “Doctors and Patients in Opera” and showed how the leading roles of physicians in opera have changed over the centuries. People used to consider the doctor as the antihero, but with time this view has transformed into a positive one that plays a huge role in history.

It is important to be professional in your medical career, but also to be passionate about the life surrounding you; for instance, Dr Soriano is also a professional baritone singer. For students, this Symposium was full of obvious and hidden messages, which gave us much lot of food for thought. As Edmund Pellegrino, the founding editor of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, said: “Medicine is the most humane of sciences, the most empiric of arts, and the most scientific of humanities.”

The first day of the Symposium, students from different countries during the roundtable.
The first day of the Symposium, students from different countries during the roundtable.

 

CHOOSING ONE WORD

To conclude our summary of the students’ viewpoint each of us chose One word to encapsulate our thoughts about the symposium.

Define DASH

What? How? Why?
‘Medicart’ Doctor Medical students should widen their intellectual interests and activities beyond scientific evidence. Consider Medicine as an art that cures the patient’s illness, and in which the doctor’s soul plays an important role. To know how to empathize and treat adequately, the physician needs the ability to see things not only with a clinical eye.
Multidimensional Medical students, as well as other university students, need to harmonize their career with their non-academic lives. Motivate the students beyond formal education in order to become multidisciplinary. Better trained “humanistic” medical students should become more balanced human beings and doctors; this would benefit both the patients and each Doctor.
Holistic The human being is more than the coordinated work of billions of specialized cells Listen to the patient, understand their suffering, integrate every aspect of their biography and, in this way, achieve the best or “least bad” solution. Humanities are the only way to enable doctors try to reach this integrative manner to practice medicine.

 

Necessity Humanism enhances interpersonal awareness amongst people. Cover a wide range of liberal arts topics related to the human condition, namely history, literature, fine arts, philosophy and ethics. Forging healthy relationships, not only with the patient but also with work colleagues, family and friends, improves one’s ability to make sound judgements, empathize, listen, interact and ultimately communicate.

 

CONCLUSION

The Doctor as a Humanist is a multicultural event where everyone can learn and contribute to this global necessity to put the heart and soul back into medicine. Of course, we are aware and delighted that other organizations are championing the cause of the Humanities in Medicine, and in some cases, such as https://www.dur.ac.uk/imh/, they have been doing so for many years.

As medical students, we appreciate how we have been placed at the centre of the symposium, which we believe has made this new initiative rather special. We hope that students of Medicine and from other disciplines come and participate in future symposia.

If you want to learn more, and see how you can participate, please contact the International student representatives, Mariam (thedoctorasahumanist@gmail.com) and David (david.cerdio@anahuac.mx).

 

Acknowledgements

Assistance provided by Jonathan McFarland (c) and Joan B. Soriano (University Autonoma de Madrid) was greatly appreciated during the planning and the development of the article.

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