Apprenticeship in Teaching

Interacting with the Medical Humanities

Caroline Wellbery, M.D., Ph.D.

Poetry, literature, visual and multimedia arts might seem to take a back seat to science in medical teaching, yet Dr. Caroline Wellbery believes that by taking a closer look at the liberal arts and creative representations of the body, doctors-in-training can broaden their understanding of medical practice. After participating in the CNDLS Faculty Colloquium in 2004, Dr. Wellbery developed a website to help medical students learn about the patient-doctor relationship through the arts.

The Interacting with the Medical Humanities site intends to teach students about the many aspects of patients' experiences--topics like pain, domestic violence, obesity, aging and grief. Works of art are accompanied by discussion questions that encourage students to draw connections between the concepts in the works and their own interactions with patients. For instance, students read Anne Sexton's poem "The Touch" and then reflect on the poem's use of metaphor and emotion in describing a patient's experience. Thinking about complex meanings and manners of expression in poetry might translate to a better understanding of trust and communication between doctors and patients--the overall goal of the project. In addition to the site's reflective exercises, a series of clinical correlates provides scientific and contextual information to connect the creative works with clinical studies.

CNDLS assisted Dr. Wellbery in developing Interacting with the Medical Humanities by assisting with the site design and layout, as well as conducting focus groups with medical students to improve the usability and relevance of the content. As Dr. Wellbery continues to receive feedback from students and peer reviewers, she plans to expand Interacting with the Medical Humanities to include even more humanities-based and multimedia approaches to medical practice.