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A Piece of My Mind
September 7, 2005

“The Medical Humanities,” for Lack of a Better Term

Author Affiliations

A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2005;294(9):1009-1011. doi:10.1001/jama.294.9.1009

Recently, I returned from addressing a conference in London, one that had been convened to discuss issues relevant to what was called somewhat vaguely “the medical humanities.” Among the few hundred attendees were poets, physicians, filmmakers, nurses, sociologists, literary theorists, art therapists, ethicists, photographers, medical students, hospice workers, historians, representatives of public and private grant-making organizations, musicians, philosophers, occupational and physical therapists, dancers, and patients—many of whom, like me, owing allegiance to more than one such group. The gathering was also both international and multicultural, with Americans and Britons of various roots (Indian and Latino, Nigerian and Scottish) mixing with their Chinese, German, Cuban, Scandinavian, and Australian counterparts. The greatest paradox of the meeting, however, soon became apparent: here we were, scientists and artists from across the globe, all deeply concerned about the growing dehumanization of medical care, yet quite unsure about under which inspiring banner, exactly, we might most effectively unite to combat it. “So, what are the medical humanities, anyway?” asked a savvy medical student during a break as we nibbled on cookies, neatly summing up the vast yet unspoken problem we had posed to ourselves from the outset.